Who were the first Americans to visit the East Steubenville site? Since the 1930s, stone tools and shell middens found at the site confirmed that Native Americans had lived there, but little was known about the people themselves.


During the excavations in 1999-2000, archaeologists discovered human skeletal remains in six prehistoric burials, revealing for the first time who these people were. These graves were mostly shallow pits, dug into the flanks of the ridgespur, in which the deceased were laid to rest with their knees and hands drawn up to their chests. We found no grave goods with these burials, perhaps suggesting simple ceremonies by the kin of the deceased.

Field drawings of these graves, made by the archaeologists during excavation, show how these people were laid to rest.

  Field drawing planview of skeletal remains in Burial 4 (Feature 46).

Archaeologists discovered Burial 4 on the southeast side of the ridgespur, containing the remains of an older woman. She was buried a pit measuring nearly a meter deep that had been dug through the ridgespur's shallow soil into the bedrock. Archaeologists found her lying on her left side, facing upslope and to northwest, with her knees drawn up. Her arms were also flexed, her left forearm draped over her right side, and her right hand covering her face.

Radiocarbon dating of the woman's skeleton tells us she died about 4260 years ago (2310 BC). Because her remains were found with the individual bones in correct anatomical position, she was probably buried shortly after death.

Burial of an elderly woman at the East Steubenville site, 2310 B.C. Click the image to enlarge.

The artist's reconstruction shows one interpretation of this woman's burial when she was laid to rest. Her flexed body position, with her hands and knees drawn up, suggests she may have been wrapped in a shroud of deerskin or other material. The woman's family placed her in the burial pit on her left side, tenderly positioning her right hand over her face. After saying their goodbyes, they covered her body with earth.


Study of the Native American remains from these burials tells us about who these people were and what their lives were like. For each burial, the project osteologist, Dr. Paul Sciulli, recorded which skeletal remains were present in the burial pit, and then examined and described each skeletal element to reconstruct the appearance, health, and biology of that individual. Click here to review Dr. Sciulli's findings for the woman found in Burial 4. Taken together, the osteological identifications for the six burials at East Steubenville provide the first picture of Panhandle Archaic Native Americans.

Using the shape of the pelvis, Dr. Sciulli could determine the gender of four of the six individuals. These included two males and two females, showing that both men and women were buried at the site. Life was not long by modern standards: these Native Americans were all adults, having died between the ages of 20 and 55 years. Measurements of skeletal remains showed that although they were long-legged in their body proportions, their stature was somewhat shorter than today. The male found in Burial 3 (Feature 37) stood about five feet, five inches tall, while the woman in Burial 4 (Feature 46) measured about five feet in height.

The human remains showed that these people suffered a variety of ailments and injuries during their lives. Arthritis in the back, hands and feet, was a common affliction, reflecting lives spent hunting, fishing and gathering food in a rugged landscape, and nearly constant travel between campsites, carrying all of their possessions.

The older Native Americans at the East Steubenville site also suffered from severely worn teeth, probably from a diet of shellfish, plants or other foods with large amounts of grit. Tooth cavities and abcesses, however were relatively rare; Late Prehistoric Native Americans living in West Virginia between AD 1000 and AD 1600 suffered far more from tooth decay because of a starchy diet based on cultivated corn.

The skeletal remains from East Steubenville also tell us about the biological relationships of these Panhandle Archaic people to other prehistoric groups in North America. The question is important because new discoveries of prehistoric human remains have recently led scientists to suggest several scenarios for European and Asian groups peopling North America 15,000-30,000 years ago. Dr. Sciulli concluded from skull measurements that the East Steubenville visitors were distinct from European populations and most closely resembled other Asian-descended Native American groups who lived in Eastern North America for the last 11,000 years.



Home  | Project Background  | Archaeology |  The Land   |  The People  |  Lifeways