Friday, October 25, 2019

Discover the Monongahela Culture Archaeology of Southwestern, Pennsylvania

Monongahela, Youghiogheny and lower Allegheny valleys

Archaeologists began exploring prehistoric Native American sites in the Monongahela, Youghiogheny and lower Allegheny valleys as early as the late 1800’s when much of the emphasis was placed on mounds (cf. Hayden 1883; Thomas 1894; Carpenter 1951). Other sites were added by the Pennsylvania Indian Survey in 1928 under the direction of Dorothy Skinner. This was an expansion of the work begun in 1924 by Frances Dorrance, Director of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society (Smith and Herbstritt 1977).

Francis Dorrance 

In addition to the interest in mound sites other information was published in the 1930”s (Cadzow 1933); Engberg (1931); George Fisher (1930) that broadened the distribution of sites known at that time for southwestern Pennsylvania, especially Late Prehistoric villages located in upland (hilltops and mountain ridges) and valley settings. 

Archaeological investigations in Somerset County during the late 1930’s identified a number of Native American villages. The work was done with government funding through the Works Progress Administration better known as the WPA. In a report to the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Dr. Mary Butler (1939) linked these people to a mixed material culture having Algonquin and Iroquoian traits and so named it the “Monongahela Woodland Culture”.

Mary Buttler

Over time, archaeologists dropped “Woodland” from the name, and the “Monongahela Culture” was borne into the literature that presently describes the Late Prehistoric through Protohistoric period Native American occupations of southwestern Pennsylvania where their material traits are found (Mayer-Oakes 1955).

Clay Monongahela pottery vessels

The Carnegie Museum carried on its research interest into Monongahela archaeology after Mayer-Oakes field work was completed and published in the museum’s Anthropological Series No. 2 “Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study” (Mayer-Oakes 1955). Don Dragoo (1955) and later, Richard George (see for example 1974; 1978; 1983; 2011) who conducted field work and published extensively on the Monongahela Culture, began organizing the differences observed in the  artifact assemblages using the concept of “Phase” developed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips (1958) which with some modification remains in current use (Herbstritt 2003; Johnson and Means 2020). The following cultural phases/subtraditions for Monongahela are in current use.

Early Monongahela                  1050-1250 AD     Drew, Kiskiminetas, 
Somerset I subtradition
Early Middle Monongahela     1250-1450 AD     Campbell Farm, 
Somerset II subtradition
Late Middle Monongahela       1450-1580 AD     Scarem, Youghiogheny, Johnston, 
Terminal Somerset II subtradition
Protohistoric Monongahela      1580-1640 AD     Throckmorton (Early sub-phase), Foley Farm (Late sub-phase)

Triangular projectile points

Attempts have been made to link the cultural identity of Monongahela to different Native American language groups such as Siouan and Iroquoian based on linguistic (cf. George 1980, Johnson 2001; Sorg 2003; Swauger 1974), oral history and the cartographic/historical record (Hoffman 1964), research topics that have drawn critical review.

Marginella shells, fish vertebrae and a carved shell ornament

Archaeologists recognize the disappearance of the Monongahela culture from the archaeological record in the mid-1600’s. The impact of European diseases is not certain. Iroquois warfare is more easily supported. Droughts played a significant role in reducing the population of Monongahela villages and impacted survival. Examination of the curated artifacts and site information for these villages, as well as more recent excavations has enabled archaeologists to gain a better understanding of this culture group.

Glass trade beads

To learn more about the Monongahela Culture please join us in Harrisburg on November 9th 2019 when the State Museum of Pennsylvania will host its annual Workshops in Archaeology Program “Defining Monongahela: Western Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Mystery”.  This is a program for the general public interested in how Native Americans lived in the Upper Ohio Valley centuries ago.    Featured will be different topics on Monongahela Culture with eight presentations by archaeologists familiar with this unique Native American culture that disappeared in the early 17th century. 

2019 Annual Workshops in Archaeology 


1939       Three Archaeological Sites in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical Commission. Cadzow, Donald A.
1933     Mr. George Fisher’s Discoveries in Western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 3(3): 3-5, 16-17. Harrisburg. Carpenter, Edmund S.
1951     Tumuli in Southwestern Pennsylvania. American Antiquity 16(4): 329-346. 
             Salt Lake City. Dragoo, Don W.
1955     Excavations at the Johnston Site, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 25(2): 85-141. Engberg, Robert M.
1931      Algonkian Sites of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania. Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 14: 143-190. Fisher, George S.
1930      Indian Sites and Excavations in Western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 1(2): 8-9.
              George, Richard L.
1974      Monongahela Settlement Patterns and the Ryan Site. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 44(1-2):1-22.
1978     The McJunkin Site, A Preliminary Report. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 48(4): 33-47.
1980     Notes on the Possible Cultural Affiliation of Monongahela. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50(1-2): 45-50.
1983      The Gnagey Site and the Monongahela Occupation of the Somerset Plateau. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(4): 1-97,
2011     The Wylie #3 Site (36WH283): Part I. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 81(1): 1-27. Hayden, Horace
1883      Antiquities of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1881, pp. 638-641. Washington. Herbstritt, James T.
2003       Foley Farm: The Importance of Architecture and the Demise of the Monongahelans. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 73(1): 8-54.  Hoffman, Bernard G.
1964      Observations on Certain Indian Tribes of the Northern Appalachian Province. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 191. Johnson, William C.
2001      The Protohistoric Monongahela and the Case of an Iroquois Connection. In Societies in Eclipse: Archaeology of the Eastern Woodland Indians, A.D. 1400-1700, edited by David SBrose, C. Wesley Cowan and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., pp.67-82. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. Johnson, William C. and Bernard K. Means
2020    The Monongahela Tradition of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Periods, 11 - 17th Centuries AD. In the Lower Upper Ohio Valley in The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. In press. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Mayer-Oakes, William J.
1955    Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study. Anthropological Series No. 2. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 34. Smith, Ira F. and James T. Herbstritt
1977     A Status Report on the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
             Sorg, David J.
             Linguistic Affiliations of the Massawomeck Confederacy. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 73(1): 1-7. Swauger, James L.
1974    Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt Graz/Austria  Willey, Gordon R. and Phillip Phillips
1958    Method and Theory in American Archaeology
           University of Chichago press, Chichago. Thomas, Cyrus
1894    Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology. 
          Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of  Ethnology, 1890-1891, pp. 494-503. Washington.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment