of Prehistoric Subsistence in the Potomac
The purpose of
this report is show evidence in the archaeological record of anthropogenic use
of the Potomac River Basin from c. 10,000 B.C. to 1,400
A.D. This data will then be analyzed for the purpose of constructing a
subsistence pattern for the cultures during the specified timeline.
Research in the area of the Potomac River
Basin will extend longitudinally from approximately the area of present day
Cumberland, Maryland (Valley and Ridge Province), to approximately the area of present
day Frederick, Maryland ( the Great Valley), however; archaeological sites that
seem pertinent to this report, and within the Potomac River Basin, yet exceed
this parameter, will be included. Northerly and Southerly perimeters will vary
in distance from the Potomac River according
to the relevant data within a proposed site.
There are several
reasons for selecting this specific area instead of the entire Potomac River Basin, specifically the Coastal Plain
and Piedmont region. First, the Potomac River Basin includes a vast area that
would have required either years of research, or a more specified culture and
timeline than that of this report in order to achieve an accurate assessment of
subsistence patterns. Secondly, the
amount of archaeological data pertaining to the Piedmont
and Coastal Plain area is substantially greater than that of areas to the west.
Including this data would again have required a significantly larger volume of
text, and it also would have increased the possibility of erroneous conclusions
through my inexperience in archaeological interpretation and lack of complete
data. And finally, the amount of information at each site and how many total
sites in this area is important in answering the question of why there is a
lack of archaeological data compared to other areas and whether this is due to
a lack of discovery or an actual habitual pattern due to physiographical,
sociological, or political barriers.
order of this study will begin with a description of the environment and topography
of the Potomac River Basin. The organization of data will
be in chronological order and divided by cultural transitions. For each
cultural time period, there will be a brief description of the cultural
characteristics, any diagnostic artifacts or features that identify that
culture in the archaeological record, followed by a display of evidence.
The cultures identified in the report,
in chronological order, are the Paleo-Indian culture (c. 10,000 B.C. to 8,000
B.C.): the early, middle, and late Archaic cultures (collectively dating from 8,000
B.C. to 1,200 B.C.), and the early, middle, and late Woodland
cultures (collectively dating from 1,200 B.C. to 1,400 A.D.). The dates given
are in respect to the occupation of the Potomac
River Basin and do not reflect the
time of arrival in North America. In addition,
although the Woodland cultures persisted well
into the contact period (15th Century), 1,400 A.D. was chosen as an
arbitrary cutoff in order to limit the amount of data. It also should be noted
that the sites given do not reflect all of the sites that exist within this
range, as there are many more published and non published sites.
Research includes sources from journal
articles, reports, Ph.D. dissertations, and book excerpts. These sources
include excavation reports, data analysis, and literature on pre-historical
cultures and environments. Conclusion from the data will be a hypothetical
reconstruction of subsistence patterns based upon portions of the
archaeological record and do not reflect a scientifically proven
Potomac River Basin
Basin is considered to be part of the Middle Atlantic region
and contained within five geological areas: the Alleghany Plateau, the Valley
and Ridge Province,
the Great Valley, the Piedmont Plateau, and the
Coastal Plains. The source of the Potomac River lies in the Alleghany Plateau,
formed by the North Branch and South Branch, and flows approximately 192 miles
to its headwaters in the Chesapeake Bay (Ebaugh: 26).
Its major tributaries include the Anacostia
River, Antietam Creek, the Cacapon River,
Catoctin Creek, Conocoheague Creek, the Monocacy
River, the North Branch, the Occoquen River,
the Savage River,
Seneca Creek, and the Shenandoah
is bordered to the East by the Blue Ridge Mountains,
which separates the Valley from the Piedmont Plateau. The mountains are considered
an anticlinorium formed by Precambrian and Cambrian metavolcanics
(, the dominant rock is resistant quartzite and sandstone, and of prehistorical
importance, occasional rhyolite outcroppings occur midway up the Blue Ridge
Mountains (Stewart 1980: 119), such as the Highland metarhyolite
outcropping (Geasey, Ballweber: 75). To the West of the Blue Ridge Mountains is the
valley which contains Antietam Creek, Conocoheague Creek, and the Shenandoah River. The dominant bedrock for this
area is comprised of non-resistant shale and limestone (Schmidt. Jr: 51). Elevations for the Blue Ridge Mountains in Maryland
to Dans Mountain just West of Cumberland range from 2,895 feet to 200 feet
To the West of
the Great Valley,
beginning approximately around the area of Clear Spring,
is the Valley and Ridge
ridges and folds, in a Northeasterly to Southwesterly fashion, comprised of
limestone, shale, and dolomite. Of prehistorical importance, chert outcroppings
occur in the Clear Spring, Hancock, and Cumberland
areas. Significant water bodies in this region include the Cacapon River.
To the West of present day Cumberland, Maryland is the Alleghany Plateau
region, containing mostly limestone, sandstone, and shale (Schmidt, Jr: 51). The annual average rainfall for the Potomac Region
is 40.5 inches a year, and consists of “humid mesothermal climates shading from
humid-sub-tropical with warm summer, to humid continental with cool summers (Carbone: 29).
The Potomac region is a very compatible environment for a
wide array of flora and fauna that were continuously used by the Indians for
food, medicinal, and practical purposes. Some of the animals, in addition to a
wide array of game birds, fish, and amphibians, occurring in the region are
black bear, deer, opossum, raccoon, otter, and fox. Trees include walnut, oak, maple, beech,
hickory, and poplar (Ebaugh: 45).
The environment of the Potomac River Basin
at the time of the paleo-Indian cultures (10,000-8,000 B.C.) coincides with the
Pleistocene and early Holocene epochs of geologic time, producing a cool and
wet climate (McWeeney, Kellog: 194-195).
The Wisconsin ice
sheet that once occupied much of the continent (Maxwell, Davis), as far South
as Southern Pennsylvania, were slowly receding towards the North, thus rivers
and streams were most likely fluent year round from the increase in the water
table level, however, winters were probably relatively mild due to the glacier
acting as a barrier to the artic air currents (Carbone:
19). The dominant vegetation is believed to be alpine tundra existing in the
higher elevations of the Appalachians, open
conifer-deciduous woodlands in the foothills, and conifer dominated trees in
the forests, such as spruce, pine, fir, oak, and birch. It is believed by Brown
and Cleland that a “mosaic type pattern of vegetation existed that supported
the subsistence of animals that would not be found together otherwise” (Stewart
1980: 175). Wildlife during this time period included moose, caribou, elk,
bison, mastodon, mammoth, camel and horse (Stewart 1980: 175)
8,080 B.C. the environment began to warm leading to a Pre-boreal/ Boreal type
episode, supporting willow, sycamore, elm and ash trees. Through the warming of
the environment the amount of precipitation decreased and evaporation increased
leading to a decrease in the water table level and subsequently the rivers and
streams probably began to recede. By the end of the Boreal episode, most of the
large mammals such as the horse, camel, mastodon and mammoth were extinct
(Stewart 1980: 175).
6,540 B.C. the Atlantic Episode began, displaying a continued warming trend.
The Atlantic Episode is believed to have gone through a warm/ humid climate in
its beginning to a warm/ dry climate near its climax c. 2,290 B.C. (Carbone: 16). The dominant forest at this time period is
considered to have gone from an oak/ hickory period to an oak/ chestnut period
(Stewart 1980: 175).
these climatic periods the climate is believed to have become stable with warm
summers and cold winters. With the exception of the Little Ice Age occurring
during the 14th to 18th Centuries, the environment has
changed little regarding climate.
time period of the paleo-Indian for the Potomac River Basin area extends from
approximately 10,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C. Due to the environment and population
density at this time, it is believed the Indians were of the hunter gatherer
groups, with very little continued habitation or territorialism of land. Interaction,
trade, and warfare between different bands were minimal, as land and game can
be assumed to be plentiful. Mega fauna such as the mammoth and mastodon were
key targets for their food source as well as nuts and berries (Hulse).
can be identified in the archaeological record by the fluted projectile point.
Based upon the styles of the fluted point, the Paleo-Indian can be furthermore dissected
into an early, middle, and late phase, each categorized by a distinct
difference in the style and shape of the projectile point. The early
Paleo-Indian phase is identifiable by the classic Clovis fluted lanceolate
projectile point, the middle phase by projectiles such as the Simpson and
Cumberland types, and the late phase by projectiles such as the Dalton / Plano,
Hardaway, and Big Sandy types (Anderson: 4).
A study conducted by Anderson
on settlement patterns throughout Eastern North America
clearly indicates a lack of Paleo-Indian diagnostics in this region compared to
other regions of Mid-Atlantic. Based upon maps showing incidence of
Paleo-Indian projectile points by county (completed in the 1990’s), West
Virginia shows a complete lack of data, and surrounding Maryland and Virginia
counties indicate only 1-24 points, with the most concentrated areas being that
of the Ohio Valley region
6). Anderson does indicate through an
‘interaction corridor’ simulation that a migration of Paleo-Indian people
ranging from the Ohio Valley region Northeast to
middle Pennsylvania and also throughout the
Virginia Coastal Piedmont region (Anderson
Catoctin Creek Site, located on the Virginia bank of
the Potomac River, is reported by Dent to be the only Paleo-Indian site known
in the Potomac River
artifacts include two fluted bifaces in association with several other
artifacts (Dent: 24-25).
archaic culture began in the Potomac
River Basin around 8,000
B.C. to 1,200 B.C., with the identifiable trademarks of increased tool
technology. During this time period, hunting was still the major focus for the
food source; however, the mega fauna had become extinct and rivers and streams
were vanishing, leading to a shift in the general foraging pattern (Gardner: 2, 50).
Diagnostically, the archaic is identifiable by a spear throwing device called
an atlatl and the change from a fluted projectile points
to a notched projectile point. The notched projectile point clearly
demonstrates the technological transition; unlike the lanceolate projectile,
the notched projectile points have notches towards the bottom of the point to
help secure the spear, line, and point. A
‘tool bag’ also seemed to have become common, including stone drills, hammer
stones, and stone axes (Gardner:
archaic, beginning around 6,500 B.C., is distinguishable by diagnostic
projectile points, such as the LeCroy, Stanly, Morrow Mountain 1 and Morrow
Mountain 2 styles (Gardner: 53).
late Archaic, beginning around 2,500 B.C. and ending around 1,200 B.C., is
characterized culturally by more stabilized subsistence patterns and a
projectile points such as the Savannah River Broadspear, appearing throughout
the east coast from Maine to Georgia (Gardner: 59), and Susquehanna Broadspear
the sites to reveal Late Archaic evidence is the Wolfe Site, the Mullinix Site,
the Miller Site, and also the Chase Site; all located in close proximity to the
Little Catoctin Creek, and all are noted by Geaser and Ballweber as rhyolite
processing sites, believed to have been reliant on the Highland outcropping,
and campsites (75).
Some of the
diagnostic artifacts retrieved from these sites include the Susquehanna
Broadspear, Bare Island, and Levanna point types (Geasey, Ballweber: 89). Within close proximity to these sites is the
Highland Site, believed to be the primary quarry workshop in the area. This
site revealed 304 ‘blanks’ (unfinished products or discarded pieces) and 142
hammerstones, which 91 percent did not originate from that area (Geasey, Ballweber: 79), indicating the traveling that took
place to reach the quarry.
transition from the Archaic culture to the Woodland Culture, around 1,200 B.C.,
is characterized by the increase in prolonged settlements and subsistence
patterns (partly due to the climatic stabilization and the also the arrival of horticulture,
and later on, agriculture) and the introduction of pottery (Fiedel: 101.
early woodland time period is largely characterized by the Adena culture, which
occupied much of the Ohio Valley region, and is recognized for the ceremonial
mounds that were used for ceremonial burials, which have been discovered throughout
the middle Atlantic. Ceramic pottery became
apparent at this time period. The pottery was for the most part shell tempered
and with little or no decoration, compared to the pottery from the middle and
late woodland, which is characterized by a more diverse style of tempering and
decoration. The early woodland pottery types include the Marcey Creek and Seldom Island
cord marked styles.
In the Great
Valley Region, multiple rock shelter sites have been recorded. These sites are
generally believed to be used for overnight purposes on hunting trips or
expeditions to and from quarry sites. Some of these sites include the Stevens
Rock Shelter, located near present day New Market in Frederick County,
Maryland, containing evidence of early woodland diagnostics and late Woodland
diagnostics; interestingly, no evidence of the middle Woodland
period was discovered. The earliest use of this site is thought to have been
during the Archaic-Woodland transitional period, with the identification of the
Perkiomen broadpoint, dating around 1,700 B.C.
The late Woodland period is
represented at this location by many more artifacts, including pottery types of
the Albemarle series, than the early Woodland, indicating more
use (Geasey: 27). Also mentioned by Geasey is the Boyers Mill Rock
Shelter, located a short distance away from the Stevens Rock Shelter. He
describes this site as “containing a rater large inventory of cultural
materials” dating from the Archaic period and
continuing thru the late Woodland period (Geasey: 27)
of the few sites researched in the western portion of the study include the
Barton Complex, located South of Cumberland, Maryland. Although 732 artifacts,
indicating an Archaic period base camp (Wall, Curry: 11) were collected from
this site, a basin-shaped feature containing twenty eight pottery sherds
indicates and Early Woodland occupation. These sherds have been related to the
Half Moon ware type found in Garrett County Maryland. Also discovered in the
feature were two projectile points associated with the Adena people (Wall: 13).
middle Woodland time period is characterized by the Hopewell culture. This time period also shows
ceremonial mounds, however; with an increase in stone mounds versus the earthen
mounds made by the Adena cultures. It is during this time period that
horticultural practices occur, leading inevitably to the full blown agriculture
occurring during the late Woodland phase.
late Woodland phase is arguably where the most significant changes occurred,
including the invention of the bow and arrow, agriculture, and stockaded
villages due to the increase in territorialism and furthermore, warfare.
first site containing evidence of Late Woodland
is the Bushey’s Cavern site, located near present day Cavetown,
Washington County Maryland. Among the artifacts collected at
this site is a rimsherd of Riggins Ware pottery type. This pottery type is well
known throughout the Coastal Plain region of Maryland and into the Northern coastal
regions of the Mid-Atlantic. It typically shows crushed quartz as a tempering
agent, although shell tempered sherds have also been discovered (Barse: 14-15).
It is noted by Barse that the occurrence of Riggins Ware pottery in this region
in addition to other pottery types typically found in the Coastal region
indicate a possible exploitation of this region, instead of settlement
patterns, by the Coastal Piedmont and Tidewater region inhabitants (Barse: 18).
This evidence coincides with a theory by MacCord that there was a Late Woodland
migration from the piedmont into the Tidewater region (MacCord: 7). According
to Rountree and Davidson, the Late Woodland people were probably the ancestors
of the chiefdom tribes that the Europeans made contact with during the 16th
century, such as the Accomacs, Nanticokes and Piscataway’s (Rountree, Davidson:
patterns for the Paleo-Indian period is perhaps best displayed by Anderson’s
study of fluted projectile points throughout Eastern North America, since the
lack of abundant artifacts in this region in particular makes it difficult to
assimilate an accurate pattern. His reports indicate the Paleo-Indian people
migrated to this region from a Southwesterly direction, and in another report,
suggests this occurred due to “demographic pressures and avoid redundant land
As can be derived
from the reported data, extensive studies have been conducted in the Great
Valley Region, in comparison to the Valley and Ridge region, for its abundance
of quarry sites, manufacturing sites, and habitual sites. Coincidentally, the
rise of rhyolite use during the middle Archaic into the Woodland
periods appears at the same time as the climate was stabilizing. It is perhaps
the colder climates, increased alpine tundra, and higher water levels during
the Paleo-Indian period that little evidence of these peoples exists in the
Valley and Ridge and Great
Valley regions. As the
climate warms, water levels decrease, and alpine tundra is replaced by Boreal
and later deciduous forests, the migration of tribes and bands into this region
leads to the discovery of new sources for technological needs. As rhyolite
became more useful to the Indians for tools and weaponry, extensive trips were
made into this region for exploitation of its rhyolite outcroppings and other
resources. It can also be speculated that the Coastal Regions during the
Woodland periods demonstrated a pristine environment for subsistence during the
warmer months, and during the late middle and late Woodland phase, prime agricultural
land; leading to a higher population concentration in that region. It is
hypothesized by Fiedel, however, that there was an actual decrease in
population during the Early Woodland period, based upon the lack of “sites and
components that can be assigned to the Early Woodland” (107).
In order to create
an accurate subsistence pattern for all cultural time periods in this region,
an extensive calculation of all sites located in the Middle Atlantic should be
reviewed in order to assess the inevitable fluctuation of data from one region
to another, and from each site, calculate and compare cultural features and
diagnostic artifacts in order to assess the type of site and relevance of data
quantity (i.e. rock shelter vs. winter camp would prove abundance of data
Once this is
completed, it should then become apparent where there should be an abundance of
data and where a lack of data would be justified. If there is a lack of data in
one region, encircled by rock shelters and small camps, then a lack of data
would be an indication of no settlements occurring in that region, and a
possible migratory route. However; if there is a region with minimal data
encompassed by an extensive settlement site, then a plausible research design
for excavation could be introduce for that region.
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and Sassaman, Kenneth
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