Friday, September 15, 2017

A 2fer: Triangles and Archaeology

The Triangular Shaped Projectile Points
The First Week of Archaeology at Fort Hunter

The main topic for this week’s blog is a very common artifact in Pennsylvania, the triangular projectile point. It is especially oriented to the projectile point nerds in our audience - those readers who are fascinated with the shapes of projectile points and how they are grouped into types. To our readers who are interested in artifacts – their age, function and how they were made – this blog is for you.

Triangular projectile points or arrow heads are associated with the Late Woodland period - dating from 900 AD to 1550 AD. Archaeologists have long recognized that there seems to be two different shapes or types of triangles in the Northeast. The slightly larger form was named the Levanna type by William Ritchie (1961). This type is approximately as wide as it is long, like an equilateral triangle, and usually with a concave base. According to Ritchie (1961) they average 3.1 cm to 4.5 cm in length; they are usually well flaked and date between 900 AD and 1350 AD. It is assumed they were used as arrow points. In Pennsylvania, this type is associated with Clemson Island and Owasco pottery types. 
Levanna Points
The second type, first described by Scully (1951), is the Madison type. It averages 2.5 cm long and is more commonly isosceles in shape or longer than wide. Although the two types clearly overlap in time, Madison triangles are generally thought to date after the Levanna type from 1300 AD to 1600 AD. In the Ohio Valley of Pennsylvania, these are sometimes referred to as Mississippian or Fort Ancient points and they are associate with the Monongahela culture. A sample of 50 Shenks Ferry triangular points from the Quarry site in Lancaster County (36La1100) dating to approximately 1500 AD, averaged 2.1 cm in length. Interestingly, a study conducted by Graybill et al. found that there was a reduction in the width of these points between early Shenks Ferry and late Shenks Ferry.

Madisson Triangles from the Quarry site
   Although some archaeologists have argued that not all triangles could be pigeonholed into the Levanna or Madison type, it was believed that all triangular projectile points dated to the Late Woodland period and functioned as arrow points. However, in New England and New York, other types of triangular projectile point types have been found in Archaic contexts. The Beekman triangle is described by Ritchie (1971) as being associated with Late Archaic, Vosburg points in New York State dating to 4700 BP. He described these as equilateral in shape with excurvate or straight edges, and with moderate grinding of the base. On Martha’s Vineyard, Ritchie (1971) identified Squibnocket triangles in Late Archaic contexts, dating to 4200 BP. These were shaped like equilateral or isosceles triangles but with no grinding on the base. Hunterbrook triangles (Wingerson and Wingerson 1976) were defined based on the Hunter Brook Rockshelter along the Hudson River as equilateral in shape with excurvate edges and a ground and thinned base. However, Archaic triangles were rare and limited to New York and New England. For some archaeologists, there was a lingering question as to whether these were really Archaic in age or were they Late Woodland points that had washed into Archaic strata.
    Beginning in the 1990’s, the chronological interpretation of these points began to change with the excavation of a large number of triangles from stratified Archaic sites at the Abbott Farm Complex along the Delaware River in New Jersey. This was unequivocal evidence that triangular points were being made and used during the Archaic period.  The radiocarbon dates from the Area D site (28Me1-D) at Abbott Farm extended the age of these points back to 6500 BP. Since that time, a number of other sites in Pennsylvania, such as Memorial Park (36Cn164), West Water Street (36Cn175), East Bank (36Nb16), Mifflinville (36Co17), Raker (36Nb58), P-11(36Pe60) and the Wallis site (36Pe16) have produced dates on Beekman or Hunterbrook triangles ranging from 6500 BP to 3600 BP.

Archaic Triangles from the Abbott Farm Complex (Custer 2001)
   There has been an effort to physically distinguish Archaic triangles from later Woodland triangles at the Abbott Farm Complex. Stewart (1998) states that a “healthy percentage” of Archaic triangles can be distinguished from Late Woodland triangles by “1) a patterned approach to the pressure flaking of bases, and 2) the asymmetrical aspect of the basal edge angle.” In addition, they exhibit “finer workmanship, symmetry and thinness than later types” (Wall et al. 1996: 10). Katz (2000) on the other hand, presents data that suggest that Archaic through Early Woodland triangles are difficult to distinguish from Late Woodland triangles.
   There is one final lingering question. How were Archaic triangles used? Archaic triangles are indistinguishable from Late Woodland triangles so, logically, we might conclude that they also functioned as arrow points.
     Triangular points such as the Madison and Levanna types are practically synonymous with the Late Woodland period, the introduction of the bow and arrow, well-made pottery, the introduction of farming; and village life. The received wisdom is that Indian populations were increasing; they began growing corn to feed the additional people; the bow and arrow was a more efficient for hunting compared to the atlatl; and it was also a more effective weapon in warfare. However, it is now clear that this scenario is rather simplistic and the appearance of the bow and arrow occurred much earlier.

Opening Excavations for the 2017 Season at Fort Hunter
The excavations at the Fort Hunter site (36Da159) were opened on September 7th, delayed one day by rain. The main areas for this year’s work are the smokehouse and the western trench. The backfill was removed from the western trench and the walls were cut and the floor troweled in the smokehouse block. The western trench is situated directly north of the mansion. It was first opened in 2008 and subsequently expanded in 2016. It is an area that contains multiple layers of late 18th, early 19th century occupations over a series of prehistoric occupations. The area probably relates to either the fort period (1756-1763) or the early to middle McAllister period (1787-1830).
West block

In the smokehouse block, several suspected features from last year were more easily defined. These will be further investigated to better define the smokehouse structure and to determine if this was also the site of an earlier smokehouse. Towards the end of this season, the smokehouse foundation will be removed to recover artifacts that may more exactly determine the date of this structure.
Smokehouse block
We had a very interesting interview with Marcus Schneck of Pennlive that will be aired the week of September 18th.
Marcus Schneck Interview
This is going to be an exciting excavation season, so please join us. The site is open to the public from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm weekdays, weather permitting. Friday the 15th  (TONIGHT), we are celebrating 3rd in the Burg so the site will be opened until 6:00 pm.  This coming Sunday, September 17th is Fort Hunter Day and we will be open for public visitation and will be excavating from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.
We hope to see you there!
Custer, Jay F.
2001    Classification Guide for Arrowheads and Spearpoints of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Central Middle Atlantic, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.
Graybill, Jeffrey R., James T. Herbstritt, Andrea J. Carr and Melanie R.Wing
2014    Shenks Ferry Triangles, Seriation and Dating. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84(2): 36-41.
Katz, Gregory
2000    Archaic Period Triangular Projectile Points in the Middle Atlantic Region. Paper  
            presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology,
Ritchie, William A
1961    A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum
            Science Service, Bulletin No. 384, Albany.
1971    A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum and Science Service Bulletin No. 384. Albany, New York.
Scully, Edward
1951    Some Central Mississippi Valley Projectile Point Types. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan
Stewart, R. Michael
1998    Archaic Triangles at the Abbott Farm National Landmark: Typological Implications
            For Prehistoric Studies in the Middle Atlantic Region. Paper accompanying an
            exhibit of Archaic-Age Bifaces at the Annual Meeting of the Middle Atlantic
            Archaeological Conference, Cape May, New Jersey. Sponsored by the Archaeological
            Society of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Wall, Robert D., R. Michael Stewart, and John Cavallo
1996    The Lithic Technology of the Trenton Complex. Trenton Complex Archaeology: Report 13. Prepared for the Federal Highway Administration and the New Jersey Department of Transportation by the Cultural Resource Group, Louis Berger & Associates, Inc., East Orange, New Jersey.
Wingerson, Roberta and Richard Wingerson
1976    The Hunter Brook Rockshelter.  Bulletin of the New York State Archaeological Association 68:19-28. 


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

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