In 1951, thirteen years after discovery of the East Steubenville site, artifacts from the site were brought to Dr. William Mayer-Oakes, an archaeologist at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. Studying these and similar finds from other nearby sites in his laboratory, Mayer-Oakes saw a pattern: the spearpoints, bone tools, and adzes had mostly been found in shell middens on bluff tops overlooking the Ohio River.
From stone tools found at other prehistoric campsites, Mayer-Oakes knew that Native American hunters had roamed the Upper Ohio Valley, stalking game as early as 11,000 years ago. But these bluff top Archaic shell midden sites, believed to be 5,000 to 3,000 years old, were different: the mussel shell, fish bone and stone netsinkers found in the middens testified that these later Archaic peoples also harvested their livelihood from the Ohio River.
Found only in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, these Archaic shell midden sites marked a watershed in West Virginia prehistory between earlier hunting lifeways and the later mound building cultures of the Upper Ohio Valley. Mayer-Oakes coined the term Panhandle Archaic to refer to this unique, riverine-focused lifeway of Native Americans that flourished thousands of years ago in the Upper Ohio Valley.
Years passed. Decades later, many questions remained about the Panhandle Archaic lifeway and the East Steubenville site itself-- Who were these people? When and why did they camp on the blufftop? What was the land like? How did they live from day to day? Only archaeological research could unravel these mysteries of the Panhandle Archaic.
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