Friday, June 5, 2015

Archaeological Survey of the Upper Delaware Valley in Pennsylvania

This week, we continue our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 1965. The 1960’s were a vibrant time in Pennsylvania. The building of the State Museum and Archives Complex was creating a show case for Pennsylvania archaeology. The SPA was active in several field projects in the Delaware, Susquehanna and Upper Ohio drainage basins. This week we are going to focus on one of most significant projects of the decade conducted in Pennsylvania.

The Tocks Island Reservoir project was an eight year investigation of the archaeological resources that may have been impacted by construction of the Tocks Island Dam and Impoundment area. The project area extended for 37 miles along the floodplain of the river from the Delaware Water Gap in Monroe County, Pennsylvania to Port Jervis, New York. (map) Significant flooding in 1955 had resulted in loss of life and considerable damage to property. In addition, there was a desire to provide a recreation area for the major cities of the Northeast. The archaeology was funded by the National Park Service (NPS) who was responsible at that time for protecting archaeological sites threatened by federal projects. John Cotter was the administrator for the Park Service and arranged for two small grants to conduct the work; one to Franklin and Marshall College supervised by W. Fred Kinsey to survey the Pennsylvania side of the river and one to The State Museum of New Jersey, supervised by Herbert Kraft to survey the New Jersey side. At the time W. Fred Kinsey, former State Archaeologist and Director of the State Museum, had moved to the North Museum at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. The project began in 1964 with survey work by Kinsey, Barry C. Kent and John Hall. Kent moved into the position of State Archaeologist at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in 1966.

Fieldwork was conducted over an eight week period that summer. They were assisted by an enthusiastic group of amateur informants and members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Forks of the Delaware Chapter. In addition, David Werner and crew from the Lenape Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology had been excavating the Zimmerman site since 1962 and would continue until 1967. Forty-nine sites were mapped and twenty were field tested employing surface collecting and trenching. By the end of the survey, it was realized that the floodplains contained a high density of stratified prehistoric components, varying from a few feet to over ten feet in depth. Kinsey and Kent noted in their 1965 field report that they had documented occupations dating between the Paleoindian and historic periods with Late Archaic through Late Woodland components being the most common.

In 1965, Kinsey received additional funding for field testing from the NPS but also received a National Science Foundation grant for teaching high school students scientific methods. Kinsey created three crews, each consisting of four high school students, one college student and one professional archaeologist. Six sites were intensively tested over an eight week period. It became clear that these sites were artifact rich and included undisturbed living floors consisting of numerous pit features and post molds. A variety of interesting artifacts were recovered including several large sections of Woodland ceramic vessels. Only one partial house pattern was recorded. Considering the common occurrence of houses in the Susquehanna and Upper Ohio valleys, it was curious that few had been documented in the Delaware.

In 1966, Kinsey decided to focus on one site, Peters Albrecht, in order to expose a large amount of surface area in a search for house patterns. He continued to encounter large numbers of pit features and post molds but the post molds seemed to be randomly distributed and did not form obviously patterns. Several large fire-cracked-rock features were discovered however, one measuring 28 feet in diameter. These dated to the Transitional period and Kinsey speculated they were used for drying shad caught in the Delaware River. This speculation as to the function of these features continues to this day.

Charles McNett joined the project that year and brought a field crew from Baylor University near Waco, Texas. He worked on the Brodhead-Heller site that contained well stratified Late Archaic through Transitional period occupations that also produced large fire cracked rock features. In addition, Perkiomen Broadspears were common but Lehigh and Susquehanna Broadspears were also present. Netsinkers were recovered at this site and other Transitional occupations indicating that nets were used for catching fish. McNett continued working the site in 1967 and excavated a total of 2100 square feet to a depth of between 24 and 84 inches.

Kinsey began the excavation of the Faucett Site in 1967. This site contained significant Early, Middle and Late Woodland components and was culturally stratified to a depth of over 80 inches. Again, the Late Woodland period did not produce any houses. However, several pits contained distinctive pottery types and his student , Roger Moeller was able to demonstrate the contemporaneity of some of these types by cross-mending sherds between pits.  

The Middle Woodland period was very poorly known throughout Pennsylvania (and still is) but Kinsey and his students were able to identify a group of artifacts from this period that he used to defined as the Bushkill Complex. Excavations at the Faucett (36Pi13A) and the Brodhead (36Pi30) sites revealed a variety of artifacts, pottery and projectile point types from this period. The pottery was impressed on the outer surface with nets or fabric, and a large section of a net marked pot was found at the Brodhead site. At Faucett, a circular pattern of post molds indicated the presence of a Middle Woodland house.  Interestingly, several groups of bola stones were found at the Faucett site.  These are baseball-size, river cobbles with a groove pecked around the middle. It is assumed that these were used for hunting waterfowl along the river.

Kinsey spent three more seasons at Faucett, eventually opening 40,000 square feet, much to a depth of the Late Archaic occupation at approximately 84 inches. The Faucett site was the most productive of the sites he investigated because it contained many Late Woodland features that produced artifacts reflecting behavior during that period but also a seemingly complete record of Late Archaic, Transitional, Early and Middle Woodland occupations. At Faucett, he was able expose large living surfaces to fully explore individual occupations.

The contribution of Kinsey’s work along with his colleagues and students is in the form of establishing a basic data base on the nature of human occupations in the Upper Delaware Valley over mainly the past 6000 years. Using over twenty radio-carbon dates, Kinsey was able to create a culture history of the region and identify diagnostic projectile points and pottery types. This sequence remains a corner stone of research in the region today. Along with Herbert Kraft, David Werner and Patrician Marchiando, Kinsey published the results of investigations on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvanian sides of the river in 1972.

The Upper Delaware Valley has continued to be a laboratory for the investigation of Late Archaic through Late Woodland research issues. The Tocks Island Dam was never built but the project area was turned into a national park and recreation area that attracts millions of people every year. The National Park Service has continued to conduct archaeological surveys in the region and they have added a number of upland sites that have contributed to settlement pattern studies in the floodplains. Most recently, Temple University has conducted excavations at the Manna site, originally identified by Kinsey’s 1964 survey.

Finally, a significant contribution of Kinsey’s work was that it produced a large number of well-trained students who went on to make their own contributions to archaeology. As a personal note, I would like to add that I started as a one of Kinsey’s high school student trainees in 1965 and I am now celebrating 50 years in the field of archaeology.

Kurt W. Carr


Kinsey, W. Fred
1972    Archaeology in the Upper Delaware Valley. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.
1991    A Trip Down Memory Lane: Digging Along the Delaware 1964 to 1974. In The People of Minisink: Papers from the 1989 Delaware Water Gap Symposium. Edited by David G. Orr and Douglas Campana, the National Park Service, Philadelphia.

Kinsey, W. Fred III and Barry C. Kent
1965    The tocks Island Reservoir Survey in Pennsylvania: A Preliminary Statement. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 35 (3-4): 120-133.

Kraft, Herbert C.

1975    The Archaeology of the Tocks Island Area. Seton Hall University Museum, South Orange, New Jersey. 

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

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