Friday, November 15, 2013

Union County

This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology takes us to Union County located near the heart of central Pennsylvania. In 1813 Union County was formed from part of Northumberland County allowing for a living area of 317 square miles. The 2012 the census records reports a population of 45,000 people living there and Lewisburg is the county seat.

Two physiographic sections make up Union County. The eastern half is within the Susquehanna Lowlands while the western half is comprised of the hills and ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Elevations range from a low of 938 feet in the valleys to a high of 1443 feet on the highest ridge tops. Both Sections form a large part of the Ridge and Valley Province of central Pennsylvania where the climate is temperate and largely pleasant year round.

The bedrock in Union County was formed from Ordovician, Devonian and Silurian sediments (365-500 million years old). The bulk of the county’s bedrock however, is made up of the 405-430 million year old Silurian Period material. The remains of many fossilized plants and animal fauna have been found in the strata of these rocks which are among some of the finest preserved in the Commonwealth. The Faylor-Middle Creek Limestone Quarry at Winfield contains some of the best calcite, fluorite and strontianite crystal specimens that have been identified by Pennsylvania geologists (Geyer et al. 1976). Additionally, there are massive chert bearing deposits in the Penns Creek drainage that were exploited for stone tool material by different prehistoric Indian cultures (Bressler 1960).   

The principal drainage of Union County is the Susquehanna’s West Branch where its tributaries are east trending. Buffalo and Penns Creek are the main secondary water sources. The former enters the West Branch at Lewisburg and the latter continues on its southern course to enter Middle Creek south of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Three Indian paths ran through Union County. The Great Island Path skirted the northern part of the county and connected Great Island at Lock Haven with Shamokin at the Forks of the Susquehanna at Sunbury. An unnamed secondary path connected Great Island with the Penns Creek Path at Millheim, Pennsylvania on Penns Creek. Along the southern border of Union County ran the Penns Creek Path which also converged at the 18th century Shamokin Indiantown once located at the Forks of the Susquehanna at Sunbury.

A review of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (P.A.S.S.) files identified 142 recorded archaeological sites. Of these, 37 are Historic and the remainder are Prehistoric. Most of the Historic sites are 19th century in age, however, the reported prehistoric sites are representative of all the recognized cultural periods in Pennsylvania, from Paleoindian through the Late Woodland. In terms of site type, the majority are Late Woodland (25%) and Late Archaic (22%) in that order of frequency. Transitional sites (16%) are followed by Middle Archaic sites (14%) then Early Woodland at (7%). Next are Middle Woodland (5%) and Paleoindian sites (5%) and ending with four Early Archaic Period sites at (4%). Not unexpected, the primary choice of lithic material for tool manufacture are local source cherts from the Keyser/Shriver formations that occur in eroded outcrop and cobble locations in  much of Union County. As well, open pit quarries are reported from certain sections of the county.

The Bloomer Site (36Un82)

Excavation block profile (36Un82)

One of the principal cultural resource data recovery projects in Union County was undertaken and completed in 1992 for U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons (Wall 1995). The project, located on a Holocene/Pleistocene terrace on the West Branch Susquehanna River at Allenwood, Pennsylvania, is a stratified prehistoric site. The site, designated in the PASS files as 36Un82 is multi-component with Late Archaic, Transitional (alternatively called Terminal Archaic by the investigators of the report), Early Woodland and early Late Woodland (Clemson Island) period occupations.

Lamoka projectile points from the Bloomer Site (36Un82)

The deepest cultural level occurring at 36Un82 is 3Ab associated with the Lamoka phase of the Late Archaic Period (Ritchie 1965; Funk 1993).  Four hearth features from a living floor date the Lamoka occupation(s) between 2950 BP and 3970 BP.  The 2950 B.P. radiocarbon date seems too late in time for this occupation, therefore the remaining cluster of four dates which averaged out at 3820 B.P. indicate an approximate site occupation by Lamoka phase people around 3800 B.P.

Broadspears from the Bloomer Site (36Un82)

The Transitional Period Broadspear phase occupation(s) was identified immediately above the Lamoka levels of 2Bwb and occasionally co-mingled with younger Early Woodland Period Fishtail and Meadowwood phase points that had apparently made their way into the deeper Broadspear phase level from the Bwb. Three radiocarbon dates from hearth contexts suggest an occupation(s) range for this component between 2900 BP and 3640 B.P., but again, by eliminating the youngest of the three dates (the 2900 date) which appears to be an outlier, an averaged date of the actual Broadspear occupation would have been around 3610 B.P.

Fishtail projectile points from 36Un82

Triangle projectile points from 36Un82

It is unfortunate that there were no radiocarbon dates linking the site’s cultural chronology in the next upper level designated as 2Ab. This was the site’s uppermost intact level containing the Fishtail phase and Meadowood phase points. However, the outlier date noted for the Late Archaic date cluster seems closer to the Early Woodland and may in fact date that occupation at 36Un82. Typically, these occupations at other Susquehanna Valley sites date between 2500 B.P. and 2200 B.P. - not that far temporally removed from the aforementioned 2900 B.P. date.

Plan view of Clemsons Island house structure

The uppermost deposit at 36Un82 designated as Bwb contained pit and postmold features representative of the Late Woodland Clemson Island phase. This and its Early Owasco counterpart are the dominant cultural expressions thus far recognized for the entire West Branch valley (Turnbaugh 1977). Features of the Clemson Island phase were prolific at site 36Un82 and largely consisted of hearths, refuse and storage pits containing cultural debris such as decorated grit tempered pottery, broad based triangular points and numerous cobble tools commonly associated with lithic reduction and food preparation activities. The majority of these features are likely linked to the remains of an adjacent longhouse. Associated radiocarbon dates place the occupation between 970 and 1070 B.P. The assumed date of occupation is the average of the two dates or 1020 B.P.

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief introduction to the archaeology of Union County and we encourage you to consult the Reference Section of this TWIPA submission for further information on Pennsylvania history and archaeology of the cultures that once lived here. 

Mark your caledar!
The State Museum of Pennsylvania's Section of Archaeology will be hosting its Annual Workshops in Archaeology on Saturday November 16, 2013.  This year's theme is the Archaeology of a Troubled Nation, 1775-1865.  As always, lectures will be presented by professionals from throughout the region as well as artifact identification in the afternoon, so don't forget your "what's this".  This year will also include John Heckman, a Civil War reenactor who will showcase the uniform and equipment of a common Pennsylvania soldier during the American Civil War.  A reception in the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology will conclude the event.  Click here to see the brochure which includes all the details.

Bressler, James P.
1960       The Penns Creek Archaic Workshops. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 30(1):25-29.

Funk, Robert E.
1993       Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State. Two volumes. Persimmon Press Monographs in Archaeology.

Geyer, Alan R., Robert C. Smith and John H. Barnes
1978       Mineral Collecting In Pennsylvania. Department of Environmental Resources Topographic and Geologic Survey. Harrisburg.

Ritchie, William A.
1965       The Archaeology of New York State. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

Turnbaugh, William A.
1977       Man, Land and Time: The Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns of North-Central Pennsylvania. Unigraphic Press, Evansville, Illinois.

Wall, Robert D.
1995       Phase III Archaeological Investigations 36UN82 Union County, Pennsylvania. ER#89-1630-119. Allenwood Pennsylvania Federal Correctional Complex Sanitary Water treatment Facility. Louis Berger & Associates, Inc. Report prepared for the U.S.Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. Washington D.C.

Wallace, Paul A.W.

1965       Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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