Friday, May 18, 2012

Clarion County

This week our travels take us across the state almost diagonally in a north westerly direction to Clarion County. This plateau region is characterized by rolling hills with deep-cut stream beds and canyon-like gorges. Mixed forests of hemlock and pine with underbrush of mountain laurel provided ideal conditions for wildlife. The dense growth of white pine, hemlock, oak and maple also played an important role in the industrial development of the county. Situated in Cook Forest State Park along the Clarion River, the National Natural Landmark known as The Forest Cathedral Natural Area contains the “finest stand of eastern white pine in the northern U.S.”. Some of these trees exceed three feet in diameter and are nearly 200 feet tall. Image

Cook Forest State Park

Native groups utilized the river gorges of the Allegheny and Clarion Rivers for gathering chert cobbles found in river gravels for stone tool production. Small rock shelters along the Clarion River have also provided evidence of use by Native groups as recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Sites Survey (PASS) files. The number of sites recorded in riverine settings, fifty-five, is almost half the number of upland sites. Native groups likely procured lithic resources in the river bed before moving into the surrounding lush forest areas for hunting.

Petroglyphs recorded on the Allegheny and Clarion Rivers further support evidence of Native American cultures. Parkers Landing Petroglyph site is on the east bank of the Allegheny River near Parker, Pa. Numerous designs were recorded and categorized by James L. Swauger of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Swauger identified dancing ducks, turkey, turtles, geometric patterns and mythological creatures in the designs carved in Burgoon Sandstone. The figure of a mythological creature referred to as a “Water Panther” is a common design in the Algonquin belief system.

Mishibijiw, the underwater panther

No exact date or cultural affiliation has been determined for the petroglyphs recorded in Pennsylvania, but researchers believe they were created within the past 1,000 years.

Along the Clarion River students from Clarion University excavated at the State Road Ripple site (36CL52) under the direction of Dr. Gustav Konitzky from 1970 through the early 80’s. This deeply stratified site has provided researchers with radiocarbon dates that range from the Paleoindian period through European Contact. Bifurcate points considered a marker of the Archaic period have yielded dates from approximately 5500 to 7400 BP at State Road Ripple site. This site also had an historic component, excavated near the surface of this site, associated with the War of 1812.

Early accounts of contact with Native peoples place the Seneca Indians in this region. The Clarion River was reportedly called "Tobecco," which means "dark brown water” by local Native groups. The brown color of the river is the result of decaying evergreen needles which produce tannic acids. The north-western part of the state was controlled by the French at the time of western expansion. The French controlled this important trade route from Canada to French territories in Louisiana. In 1757 the Provincial Council tried to convince the Seneca to join forces with the British against the French. The Seneca refused and instead they joined forces with French troops during the French & Indian War which would last for the next seven years. The British eventually prevailed and a treaty for the purchase of lands in this territory was signed at Fort Stanwix, NY in 1784.

Many publications have been produced documenting the French and Indian War and the conflict among troops, settlers and Native Americans during this battle for control of lands and expansion of territories. Filming of a classic 1940’s movie set during this period was partially completed at various sites in western Pennsylvania, including Cook Forest. This iconic film depicted a frontiersman saving Fort Pitt from raiding war parties of Seneca Indians, while rescuing the distraught beauty from a life of slavery.

Early industries included lumbering which relied on floating logs down the Clarion River to the Allegheny. Lumbering also supplied wood for boat building and for charcoal necessary for the local iron industry. An oil boom in 1869 lasted until the oil was exhausted in 1879 and was replaced by coal mining. The Philadelphia and Erie Railroad was built in the 1870’s and provided additional means for transporting lumber, coal and iron from the region. Farming continues to play an important role in the economy of the region. Gristmills and sawmills which supported local communities dot the landscape of Clarion County and have been recorded and investigated on a limited basis. The low number of recorded sites in the county is partially attributed to the rural community and limited development.

We hope you have enjoyed this journey back in time and will seek out the history and prehistory of your county. Follow along with us as we travel across the state exploring the archaeological heritage of our Commonwealth. These resources are Pennsylvania’s heritage and for all of us it is our window into the past. Help us to protect and preserve these archaeological resources which are crucial to our understanding of the past.

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

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