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[36 BV9], Beaver County, Pa.

by Emil Alam

Milestones Vol 2. No 3--Summer 1976


Archaeological excavations at the prehistoric man site located on the north bank of the Ohio River midway between the communities of Vanport and Ohioview have been in progress intermittently since 1959 by members of the Amockwi Chapter #17, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, and occasionally by students from the College of Steubenville, Ohio, Penn State, Beaver Campus and the Community College of Beaver County.

The site is located on a large flood plain which makes it ideally suited for an archaeological "dig" since periodic flooding of the river covers the plain with sand and silt thus sealing the different occupations and creating a perfect situation for future archaeological excavations.

Much has been learned by our group concerning the subsistence-settlement and habitation patterns of the peoples residing here in prehistoric times.

Materials representing cultural debris covering a span of 6000-7000 years are found to a depth of seven to eight feet.

The following is a brief summary of the different occupational periods found at the "Ohioview" site with an attempt made at cultural interpretation.

HISTORIC PERIOD (1600 A.D. - Present)

There is good evidence that at least twelve inches of top soil has been washed away by past floods, (St. Patrick's Day flood of 1936) and in later years replaced by silt deposits. Therefore, the historic component of the site very likely has been destroyed. (Note: Kaolin pipe fragments, gun flints and musket balls have been found along the river bank.)

LATE PREHISTORIC (900 A.D. - 1600 A.D.)

The 12-22 inch level represents the Late Prehistoric occupation of the site. The preponderance of post molds representing house patterns and other structures found overlapping one another would seem to indicate that the site was occupied intermittently by different groups over many years. Not more than six-seven family units seemed to have lived here at any one time. When the natural resources became scarce, i.e. firewood, game, fresh water mussel, etc., they would move to another suitable area, and years later another group would move in.

Agriculture supplemented by hunting, fishing and gathering was the mainstay of the economy at this time. Charred corn stalks and kernels and other seed plants have been found.

The bow and arrow was first invented during Late Prehistoric times, (prior to this and in all preceding time periods, the weapon used was the throwing spear.), making it easier to hunt game, but also a better weapon for warfare. These must have been turbulent times since many of the 43 burials excavated by us show evidence of violent death. Some had points (arrowheads) imbedded in their bodies, some of which were made from flints found 150 miles southwest of here. Since farming groups such as these were more or less sedentary, living within a certain area, and since the points made from this flint were found only in the bodies and nowhere else, I believe it safe to assume that alien groups came up the Ohio River, had a skirmish with our local inhabitants, killing some of them, and then proceeded on their way.

Trophy skulls were found indicating that the heads of the enemy were brought back and placed on racks.

Different pottery types found here would seem to indicate either direct or indirect contacts by or from different groups.

The following is a list of artifacts excavated at the site representing the Late Prehistoric period.

Chert: Triangular points, notched points, blades, knives, drills and scrapers.

Stone: Hammers, celts, pitted stones, anvil stones, mortars, pestles, pipes, gorgets, pendants, chisels, choppers, abraders, worked hematite, imitation slate elk and bear canine teeth, pottery smoothing stones.

Pottery: "Monongahela"-shell tempered (southern influence) and "Mahoning"-grit tempered (northern influence).

Bone: Birdbone beads, awls, antler flakers, antler points, antler drifts, antler chisel, pendants, fish hooks, perforated deer toes, perforated canine and elk teeth, turtle shell cups, deer cannon beamers and effigy pieces.

Shell: Hoes and beads of disk, cylindrical conch columnella and marginella.


The 26-36 inch level representing the Middle Woodland component of the site has very little in the way of features or cultural materials. Occupation here at this time was evidently minimal. Flint knapping was at its finest, and many of the chert artifacts were made of exotic flints brought in from other areas, indicating that these people were travelers and traders.

Hunting, fishing and gathering was most important to their economy; however, farming was practiced to a small extent at this time.

A number of fire pits occurred.

Some post molds forming semicircular features were probably structures used as drying and smoking racks for fish and meat.

Artifacts found for this time period were

Chert: Side and corner notched points, drills, knives, scrapers and blades.

Stone: Hammers, celts, pitted stones, anvil stones, choppers, gorgets, worked hematite, bar atlatl weights, smoothing stones and one broken platform pipe.

Pottery: "Watson "Amestone tempered (southern influence) and "Mahoning"-grit tempered (northern Influence).


The 34-46 inch level representing the Early Woodland occupation of the site produces the second most in abundance of occupational debris and features found here.

Farming of sunflower and squash was first introduced at this time, but was not instrumental to their survival. Hunting, fishing and gathering were the mainstay of their economy,

These people must also have been great travelers and traders, for many artifacts found were made of exotic flints which were obtained from other areas. Other sites for this time period have produced shell from the Gulf Coast, obsidian from the far West, mica from the South and copper (worked cold from nuggets) from the Great Lakes region.

A number of fire pits containing large amounts of rock and charcoal were found. Occupational debris was almost nil in these features. Possibly they were used for heating, i.e. hot rocks for the dwellings during cold periods, or possibly some were used as sweat houses with some type of enclosure surrounding them.

The most interesting features found by us representing this time period were a number of specially created fired basins containing fragmentary charred bones. Very likely these were crematory burials for their dead. If so, this would suggest some sort of burial cult in which the bodies were probably cremated at some other location containing an altar or plaza of sorts at which all members of the group would gather to pay homage to their dead before the charred bones were brought back and placed within the basins.

Late last fall members of the Amockwi Chapter, S.P.A. and Dr. Stanley Lantz, representing "The Section of Man", Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pa., excavated what was thought to be an Early Woodland pottery kiln containing large amounts of discarded potsherds and other associated artifacts for this time period. From this feature two charcoal samples were sent to Gakushuin University in Japan for dating. Surprisingly, a much earlier date was obtained than was anticipated. The result of radiocarbon assay on the samples was 520 B.C. or approximately 2500 years B.P. (Before Present).

Since we feel that we might have an even earlier ware at the "Ohioview" site, it would be of great interest for our group to obtain another radiocarbon dating for this ware (Note: It is generally believed by most professional archaeologists that pottery in the United States, except Florida, was not introduced or made before 3000 years B.P.)

Artifacts found here for this time period were:

Chert: Narrow stemmed points, drills, scrapers, knives and blades.

Stone: Hammers, pitted stones, anvil stones, celts, an unusual snake effigy made of slate, tubular pipe fragments and smoothing stones.

Pottery: "Half Moon"-Flat bottomed, tempered with crushed rock, chert, shale or limestone, and "mahoning" or "Crab Orchard" -conical bottomed, same tempering as "Half Moon".


The 42-54 inch level represents the Transitional occupation for the site.

Fishing and river travel with a riverine subsistence seem to best characterize the mode of life for these people as indicated by the many net sinkers found (for fishing) and stone anchors for their canoes.

The making of pottery from clay was not discovered at this time period. They did, however, fashion crude flat bottomed stone pots by chiseling out a soft stone called soapstone or steatite. Our people at Ohioview did not have access to this stone. Most outcroppings for soapstone seem to occur along the eastern seaboard. Instead they used sandstone which was fashioned into pots by pecking with hammerstones, a long and tedious job.

Artifacts found for this time period were:

Chert: Forest notched points, drills and blades.

Stone: Net sinkers, canoe anchors, chisels, anvil stones, pitted stones, hammers, hide scrappers, smoothing stones, sandstone potsherds.

ARCHAIC PERIOD (7000 B.C. - 1500 B.C.)

The 58-? level represents the Archaic occupation for the site.

Hunting was the mainstay of the economy augmented by fishing and gathering. Because hunting was most important, large amounts of chert and stone artifacts, tools essential for this type of economy, are found at these sites.

Campsites were rotated seasonally during the year which accounts for the numerous Archaic sites found here in Beaver County.

The "Ohioview" site was probably used by them mainly during the summer months . during which time they could obtain fish and fresh water mussel from the Ohio River, and gather seed plants, berries, nuts and other edibles from the land. Since the last penetration of the Wisconsin glacier had begun to melt and recede north not too many thousands of years previous to the early phases of the Archaic period, I believe that the flood plain in which the site is located might have been marshy and wet at this time, making it necessary for the people to live, at least a good deal of the year, at higher elevations such as the hilltops in Brighton Township overlooking the site.

Many large fire Pits are found here for this time period. Cultural debris was almost non-existent in these features. Most likely they were used for heating and cooking. .

Artifacts found here were:

Chert: Notched and stemmed points, knives, drills and scrapers

Stone: Hammers, choppers, anvil stones, pitted stones, mortars, pestles, hide scrapers and axes


The earliest arrivals to Beaver County were the peoples of the Paleo-Indian period 14,000 B.C. - 7,000 B.C. These were the hunters of the large Ice Age animals, the mammoth, mastodon, sloth, etc., now extinct.

Although we found no indication of his presence at the "Ohioview" site, the possibility exists that materials representing this time period may rest underneath the waters of the Ohio River. The building of Dams in recent years has raised the water level quite considerably.

Prior to 8,000 B.C. periglacial and tundra conditions had prevailed here in Beaver County, conditions which were capable of supporting large herds of animals and their predators, the Paleo Indians. Not until the climate warmed, permitting the development of forest types such as the oak and hickory, and later seed plants and berries, did the Archaic man make his presence felt here. The site at Ohioview was probably used as a summer camp by him. Colder weather forced a departure to temporary sheltered hunting camps located elsewhere.

Peoples forming what is now known as our Transitional culture probably had their base of origin along the eastern seaboard and especially along the Susquehanna River. Fishing and river travel seem to best characterize their mode of life.

The arrival of different groups of people from other areas into Beaver County brought in new and different ideas, the fusing of which caused the development of a more advanced culture known as the Early Woodland culture. The Ohioview site contains large amounts of cultural debris left by these people indicating it was an ideal spot in which they could live. Many of their artifacts were made from materials brought in from distant areas suggesting they were great travelers and traders. A distinct cult or religion seemed to have developed about this time in relation to the burial of their dead.

Agriculture and the making of clay pots also came into being during Early Woodland times.

The Middle Woodland component of the site seems to be best characterized by the fine degree developed in their flint knapping techniques. Many of the flint tools made at this time were masterpieces of craftsmanship and art.

As were their predecessors, these people were widely traveled, and traded with others as far away as Florida for conch shells, South and North Carolina for mica, the Lake Superior region for copper, and the far West for obsidian.

From about 900 A.D. until about 1600 A.D. the Ohioview site was occupied intermittently by many small groups of people called" Monongahela" by Dr. Mary Butler. Their subsistence was based on agriculture supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Flood plains such as that located at Ohioview were ideal for farming which explains why it was inhabited by peoples for hundreds of years during this time period. Maize, along with beans, sunflower, squash and tobacco were grown.

A typical village, such as was found here, was surrounded by a stockade, usually circular, within a ring of houses surrounded an open plaza. Houses found here were generally round with a diameter of 10 to 20 feet and made of saplings two to four inches in diameter. Cross members were lashed between the posts to which sections of bark were secured. The high incidence of stockades found surrounding late prehistoric villages would suggest that defense was the primary motive. These must have been turbulent times, for the cause of death for many of the bodies found at Ohioview was homicidal. Burials were all flexed and placed in shallow oval pits. Average age of individuals was approximately 28 years. Very few reached the age of 40, and few survived birth or infancy.


We have been informed that the area in which the Ohioview site is located will be destroyed in one or two years. Hopefully, further excavations here by the Amockwi Chapter members will increase our knowledge of the settlement and subsistence patterns of the peoples that resided here in prehistoric time.