This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology (TWIPA) continues with updates from the Fred Veigh donation. Veigh’s recently cataloged site, Beck’s Hilltop (36WH0647) from Washington County will aid us in examining a southern regional cultural phenomenon in the Upper Ohio Valley. Referred to as the Panhandle Archaic complex (Mayer-Oakes 1955), it roughly dates to 3000-5000 years ago during the Mid-Holocene. It spans the tail end of the Atlantic climatic episode characterized by a warm moist environment with relatively stable meandering river conditions by 6000 BP (Vento et al. 2020). Late Archaic hunter-gatherer groups were well adapted to the temperate forest conditions throughout Pennsylvania by these times. Social adaptations to higher population levels and predictable food sources are reflected in the archaeological record by greater regionalization of projectile point types and diversity of tools used to exploit riverine and upland resources, frequent site re-use, and range of site size and function. In other words, larger extended family groups and potentially inter-family groups (bands) began gathering in predictable seasonal patterns, primarily in river valleys to use seasonally available resources more intensively. Examples include spawning fish in the spring and freshwater mollusks at low river levels and ripening wild fruit, grains, and nuts in the late summer/fall. Panhandle Archaic people returned to smaller family groups, microbands, in the winter and times of leaner resource availability.
Adapted From: (Vento et al. 2020: Figure 1.1 (20)).
There was a climatic shift around 4300 yrs ago, called the Sub-Boreal. A warm dry climate that led to higher instances of drought punctuated by severe storms and floods. In the eastern regions of Pennsylvania, archaeologists refer to this time as the Transitional Period (2700-4300 yrs ago), defined by the presence of broadspear projectile points and steatite bowl fragments. This corresponds with an overall intensification of Late Archaic hunter-gatherer lifeways expressed as larger semi-permanent to near-permanent base camps in riverine settings from the spring through fall, then into family hunting groups in the winter. While some traditionally diagnostic Transitional sites were present in western, Pennsylvania, they are rare comparatively speaking. (Vento et al. 2020; Cowin and Neusius 2020; Carr and Moeller 2015; Carr et al. 2020)
The Panhandle Archaic complex was originally defined by archaeologist William J. Mayer-Oakes in the 1950s based on artifacts recovered from non-systematic vocational excavations at East Steubenville (46BR31), and other investigations at shell midden sites—Globe Hill (46HK34-1), New Cumberland (46HK1), and Half Moon (46BK29)—on the Ohio River in northern West Virginia. At these sites, the basic pH level of calcium carbonate in large deposits of mussel shell waste neutralized acidic soils, preserving bone artifacts and dietary remains generally lost in the archaeological record. Mayer-Oakes characterized the Panhandle Archaic complex by a series of diagnostic artifacts including Steubenville lanceolate and stemmed projectile points, three-quarter grooved round poll and pointed-poll adzes, crescent-shaped bannerstones, and stemmed bone points. Other artifacts associated with the complex, but noted as not necessarily diagnostic, were Brewerton-like side-notched projectile points, straight and expanded-base drills, plain adzes, and bone and antler tools (Mayer-Oakes, 1955).
In the subsequent seventy years of the Upper Ohio Valley, greater regional surface surveys in southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio have documented Steubenville points and knives from a variety of topographical settings that were not always associated with shell middens. These include upland sites and floodplain bottomlands, as well as the high riverine terraces generally associated with the first identified shell midden sites (Lothrop 2007; Cowin and Neusius 2020; Tippins 2020). These settlement patterns paint a broader picture of territorial range, group mobility, and provides some insight into subsistence and other targeted resource activities, like repeat visits to known stone quarry sources for Ten Mile, Uniontown, Loyalhanna, and Monongahela chert in southwestern Pennsylvania (Carr et al 2022).
Map of the Lithic Quarries Reported in Pennsylvania and Major Quarries in Adjacent States. From (Carr et al. 2020: Figure 1.3 (6))
However, large scale data recovery projects conducted in the last thirty years have deepened our understanding of Late Archaic and Transitional lifeways in the Upper Ohio River Basin. Absolute dates obtained from undisturbed contexts, data regarding diet, subsistence, technology, seasonal mobility patterns, and potential insights into intra and inter-cultural interactions through trade and exchange of resources and flow of ideas as expressed in material culture are some of the results of these investigations. This data still constitutes only a handful of Panhandle Archaic complex sites, the majority of which are multi-component and/or unstratified. There is still much research needed to better understand the Late Archaic lifeways of this region. (Carr et al. 2020; Cowin and Neusius 2020; Lothrop 2007).
Considering the distribution of Steubenville projectile points and knives in isolation, the map below depicts the range of Panhandle Archaic influence in western Pennsylvania, with the highest concentration of sites on the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela drainage systems in Beaver, Allegheny, Greene, and Washington Counties.
Distinctive Projectile Points Define the Piedmont, Laurentian, and Panhandle Archaic Traditions. From: Carr and Moeller 2015: (91)
Many archaeologists still classify the Panhandle Archaic complex as a terminal Late Archaic cultural development, influenced by the Green River Archaic complex of the Middle Ohio Valley, west-central Kentucky. Others interpret Steubenville/Panhandle Archaic complex sites dating between 3000-4300 years ago as a local and culturally distinct expression of early Transitional Period riverine adaptations in the Upper Ohio Valley (Cowin and Neusius 2020). In some ways both ideas are true. Steubenville sites are often chronologically contemporaneous with traditionally defined early Transitional sites found in other regions of Pennsylvania, as well as showing some material culture similarities with the Green River complex shell midden sites in Kentucky. Yet the Panhandle Archaic Complex remains a distinctly local development of the southern Upper Ohio Valley.
Final analysis of the GAI Consultants data recovery at the East Steubenville and adjacent Highland Hills site (46BR60) contained overlapping Brewerton (5680-5210 BP) and Steubenville (4150-3725 BP) components. Lothrop (2007) characterized East Steubenville, as a recurrent visited habitation site where small family or extended family groups visited in the spring and late summer through fall to fish, hunt deer, process shellfish and forage for wild fruits, grains, and nuts as part of both the Brewerton and Steubenville associated seasonal round. Interestingly, overrepresentation of certain faunal remains, such as fish head and tail as well as the cranial and foot elements of deer compared to other parts, is evidence of kill site processing for consumption elsewhere. This speaks to the nature of procuring game for later use and strategic planning for group mobility. Highland Hills, lacking evidence of shell processing was defined as a short-term task-focused smaller group occupation.
Lothrop (2004; 2007) contrasts the less sedentary nature of these sites from the near-permanent shell midden occupations in the Green River Archaic complex (Marquardt and Watson 1983). While the data is still limited and should not be determined by the East Steubenville site alone, Panhandle Archaic regional settlement patterns more closely resemble a smaller scale and more mobile Late Archaic lifeway, as it is currently understood throughout much of the Upper Ohio Valley. This is a difference from either the Green River Archaic complex to the west or contemporaneous broadspear Transitional traditions in Pennsylvania.
Beck’s Hilltop is a multi-component upland site surface collected by Fred Veigh in the 1970s and ‘80s. Located a hard day or more hike southeast of East Steubenville near Wylandville, Pennsylvania, it overlooks Little Chartiers Creek in the Chartiers watershed between the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. Late Archaic and Panhandle Archaic complex diagnostic artifacts present in the donation, but not previously described in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) record include: four Late Archaic Brewerton-like notched projectile point and knife varieties, and seven lanceolate and stemmed, Steubenville projectile points and knives (3000-4300 yrs ago).
|Brewerton-like notched point varieties. Onondaga, Flint Ridge, and Gull River chert.|
Steubenville projectile points and knives. Mixed quarry and glacial cobble lithic sources.
Lithic materials range from local sourced Uniontown, Ten Mile, and Loyalhanna chert; and black and mottled gray secondary glacial cobble chert. Dates are based on recently radio-carbon dated archaeological contexts in the region (Carr et al. 2020; Cowin and Neusius, 2020). Additional stemmed and partial hafted bifaces, and refined biface bases are likely associated with Steubenville related site activities, however, specific attributes are too ambiguous to definitively type without further site context.
|Late-stage biface fragments made from Ten Mile chert, in various stages of patination or thermal alteration.|
There are other artifact types that may also correlate with the Brewerton-like and/or Steubenville components at Beck’s Hill based on analogous lithic source and tool manufacture techniques recovered from excavations at East Steubenville (Lothrop 2004; 2007). These include ground stone tool fragments and spalls used for woodworking, and dedicated biface chipped stone tools used for animal hide processing and other tasks made from secondary sourced igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary glacial cobbles. The definition of a dedicated biface is a tool made for an express purpose. The examples pictured below are a drill and scraper. More frequently, hafted bifacial tools were made by recycling or retooling projectile points, representing a secondary, rather than a primary use-life of a tool.
Diorite tool bit, metabasalt spall and medial ground stone fragment
Onondaga chert drill fragment, Onondaga chert square-bit bifacial scraper- possible retooled stemmed point, Gull River chert square-bit bifacial scraper
It is likely that by the end of the Late Archaic and start of the early Transitional Period, Beck’s Hilltop served as a temporary residential site for small family groups as part of a structured Panhandle Archaic complex seasonal cycle. Carr et al. (2015) postulates that upland sites, like Beck’s Hilltop, with a diverse array of artifacts, served as winter encampments, or as small base camps for specialized resource exploitation at other times of the year. It may be suggested that these small kin-groups also joined with others at larger base camps along the Ohio river in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, Beaver and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania in the spring, late summer and fall to exploit different subsistence resources at peak availability.
Examining these archaeological resources contributes to our understanding of the daily activities and settlement patterns of the Indigenous peoples who lived here prior to the arrival of Europeans. Colonists adopted many of these procurement strategies from the Tribes who had refined these seasonal sustainability processes over time. Many of these hunting, gathering and fishing processes continue to be employed today. We hope you enjoyed this summary of the Panhandle Archaic complex and recent documented artifacts from the Fred Veigh Collection. We invite you back to explore more topics in Pennsylvania archaeology and invite you to view the on-line collections of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
References and Further Reading
Carr, Kurt W., et al. (Editors)
2020 Introduction and The Late Archaic Period. In: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, Vol 1: Introduction and Part 2 Introduction. Eds. Christopher Berman, Christina B. Rieth, Bernard K. Means, and Roger W. Moeller. Assoc. Ed. Elizabeth Wagner. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Carr, Kurt W. and Roger W. Moeller
2015 The Archaic Period and The Transitional Period. In: First Pennsylvanians: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, Chapter 4-5. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Cowin, Verna L. and Sarah W. Neusius
2020 The Late Archaic Period in the Upper Ohio Drainage Basin. In: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, Vol 1: Ch 4. Eds. Carr et al. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
Lothrop, Jonathan C.
2007 Panhandle Archaic Americans in the Upper Ohio Valley: Archaeological Data Recovery at the East Steubenville (46BR31) and Highland Hills (46BR60) Sites WV Route 2 Follansbee-Werton Road Upgrade Project Brooke County, West Virginia. State Project No. U250-2-13, Federal Project NH-002 (300). Submitted to West Virginia Department of Transportation, division of Highways by GAI Consultants, Inc.
2004 Panhandle Archaic Americans at East Steubenville: Chronology, Settlement, and Regional Comparisons. Poster presentation in the symposium “New Light on Panhandle Archaic Americans in the Upper Ohio Valley: A View from the East Steubenville Site, Northern West Virginia,” presented at the Society for American Archaeology Meetings, April 2, 2004, Montréal, Canada.
Marquardt, William H. and Patty Jo Watson
1983 The Shell Mound Archaic of Western Kentucky. In Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in
the American Midwest, edited by J.L. Phillips and J.A. Brown, pp. 323-337. Academic
Press, New York.
Mayer-Oakes, William J.
1955 Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study. Anthropological Series No. 2, Vol. 34. Annals of Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, PA.
Tippins, William H.
2020 Ohio’s Lanceolate Maker’s – Part I: Debunking the Late Paleo Lanceolate Myth and Awakening the Late Archaic Reality. Archaeology of Eastern North America. Vol. 48:157-191.