Ancient peoples and what they left behind
Before Lycoming County became Lycoming County, before European soles ever touched this land, native peoples walked the shores of the Susquehanna River, hunted along the region’s rolling hills and worked its plentiful wood.
Recovered native artifacts from as early as 11,000 B.C., when mastodons and other prehistoric creatures roamed the land, tell historians a lot about those people, said Gary Fogelman, author of “Artifacts and Early Cultures on the Susquehanna’s West Branch” and publisher of Indian Artifact Magazine.
“There were a lot of travelers,” he said. “This is a good area for finding a diversity of cultures.
“Before white man got here, there was no way to tell what these people were calling themselves,” he added.
Instead, archaeologists refer to them by their geographic region, which often is how the style of their weapon tips also are described. For example, the Clovis Culture and their points are named for their location of Clovis, New Mexico, Fogelman said. Locally, there existed the Canfield Island Culture and their Canfield Island point type.
Other groups, such as the Clemson Island and Shenks Ferry cultures, were identified by their location as well as distinct styles of pottery rather than weaponry, Fogelman added.
Ancient weapons and tools help archaeologists tell the difference between cultures. Every group of people had their own style and used various tools, Fogelman said. Styles of points, such as arrowheads and dart and spear tips, can be particularly telling.
These styles are what help people tell if an item excavated is truly an artifact or if it’s simply an irregular rock formation, said Thomas “Tank” Baird, vice president of the North Central Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology.
“You have to ask, ‘Why would they make this,’ “ he said.
Clues such as uniform scrape or “peck” marks could indicate deliberate carving and chipping. Acid tests may be used to estimate the age of an object, thereby giving clues as to whether it is indeed an artifact or merely an “Apache point” made to look old so it sells well in gift shops.
“Apache point” is an “endearing term” used for flint-knapped or gift shop arrowheads, Baird joked.
For about 9,000 years, the at’latl was the most commonly used weapon, Fogelman said. The at’latl was a wooden board that lodged a dart within a notch at one end and had a handle on the other. A person would hold the handle and swing their arm as if pitching a baseball to launch the spear at their prey or an enemy.
Around 1,100 A.D., many cultures moved from the at’latl to weapons with small, sharp points, he said.
But not all artifacts are weapons.
“We find lots of things that don’t look like arrowheads,” Fogelman said. “People don’t pick them up because they don’t realize what they are.”
Tools such as scrapers, pestles and mortars, pipes and more can be found.
“There were a wonderful variety of pipes found in Lycoming County. They’re very decorative, personal items,” Fogelman said, adding some were made with copper, which must have been imported from its native Michigan. “They’re rare. That’s why they stand out.”
“Indians had a great need for wood, at all times,” he added. “They needed woodworking tools, not necessarily weapons of war.”
The land that now is Lycoming County once was “like a three-seasons venue,” Baird said. Natives would stay for the spring, summer and fall, spending the warm weather hunting, fishing and gathering, then leave for the winter.
“We have an extensive pre-history,” he said. “The major cultures all were here. We know they were, because we found their points.”