In 2016, IUP Anthropology field school students, under the supervision of William Chadwick and Lara Homsey-Messer, used a combination of geophysical survey, shovel testing and test excavations, and geomorphic augering to investigate the prehistoric Squirrel Hill Site (36Wm0035), located
along the Conemaugh River near the modern town of New Florence, Pennsylvania. It is believed
to be a Johnston-phase Monongahela village (ca. 1450–1590).
The site has been known to archaeologists
since the 1950s, but little systematic investigation of the site has taken
place since then. And, because it has
been heavily collected by local residents for decades, the Archaeological
Conservancy purchased the property in
order to protect it from further damage.
IUP archaeological investigations at the Squirrel Hill site
Although the site is listed in the National Register
of Historic Places, previous investigation is extremely limited; with the
exception of a small geophysical survey in 2013 by IUP graduate student Lydia
DeHaven, most of the work conducted at the site occurred decades ago, and not
to modern excavation and analytical standards. Many research questions remain to be answered,
such as 1) verifying occupation and cultural affiliations; 2) characterizing
the internal arrangement of houses, plaza, and stockades; 3) contextualizing
its relationship with other Johnston Phase sites in western Pennsylvania; and 4)
reconstructing the paleo-landscape and environmental change through time.
In 2016, and in partnership with the
Midwest branch of the Archaeological Conservancy, IUP Anthropology began to investigate these questions as part of
our annual Archaeological Field School. Field school students working under the
supervision of William Chadwick and Lara Homsey-Messer used a combination of geophysical survey,
shovel testing and test excavations, and geomorphic augering to address the
above research questions. During the first field season, we opened 10 1x1-meter test units in areas that previous geophysical survey identified as
“hotspots.” We also conducted additional ground penetrating radar survey and
shovel-tested around the Conservancy’s property line. We found pottery, lithic
flakes, a lot of fire-cracked rock, and over 80 features (such as post molds
and storage pits).
Perhaps most intriguing, we now suspect that there may be
more than the one Johnston-phase occupation at the site. Many of the post
molds intersect and intrude other features, minimally suggesting some
rebuilding. Interestingly, we discovered several features (including a large
rock cluster), nearly a meter below the surface. Fortunately, we were
able to collect charcoal from them for radiocarbon dating; it will be very
interesting to see if these enigmatic features are contemporaneous with, or
pre-date, the Mon occupation.
taking Archaeological Lab Methods this fall with Chadwick are analyzing the
artifacts recovered, and students taking Geoarchaeology with Homsey-Messer
in spring 2017 will analyze the soils and microartifacts. Our first
field season let us with more questions than answers, but, of course, that is
half the fun and challenge of archaeology. We anticipate that many master’s and undergraduate theses will be
directed toward answering these questions in the years to come.
Excavation units at Squirrel Hill. Features are clearly visible in the bottom right photo.