July 24, 1997

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Aracheaologists unearth American Indian artifacts from last ice age


The Associated Press

IRVINE, Pa. (AP) -- Archaeologists have found what they claim is one of the largest concentrations of American Indian artifacts in North America, including some dating back to the end of the last ice age.

The find was made during preparations to build shower stalls at a public campground. Its significance is yet to be judged, but diggers are hopeful their findings will help them understand how tribes interacted long before the United States was born.

The Buckaloons campground in northwestern Pennsylvania, about 90 miles south of Buffalo, N.Y., has been famous for years as a place to find arrowheads.

So before the showers went up, archaeologists sifted the soil for evidence of Pennsylvania's first residents. Flat land, the nearby Allegheny River and animals and berries had made the spot attractive.

''This area has a rich natural environment, and is an ideal setting, which drew them to it, which draws people to any site,'' researcher David Hyland said.

Since 1993, the 300-acre field has yielded more than 10,000 pieces of pottery and stone tools and the remains of shelters from the Iroquois and Hopewell tribes.

Some of the items came from ancestors of the Seneca Nation, now prominent in western New York. Representatives of nation said they have not been involved with the project, which is not supposed to include graves. Federal law prohibits the excavation of American Indian graves.

''Culturally, we're always interested in what is out there, but we do expect people to be respectful of our beliefs, both past and present, during a dig,'' said Judy Greene, director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, N.Y.

This summer, a 33-person team plowed 10 acres of the Buckaloons field, bringing up well-made arrowheads and other tools.

The federal government, Mercyhurst College and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission are funding the $40,000 project.

James Adovasio, director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institution, said the artifacts appeared in groups that represent different camps.

''Each cluster is a snapshot in time,'' Adovasio said. ''The sum total of those snapshots is a motion picture of what happened here over an enormous time span.''

The outcome of his labor remains to be seen. Several experts in Indian archaeology and anthropology said they could not comment on the project until the results of Adovasio's findings are published in a scientific journal.

Thousands of tiny blue flags that pinpoint the discoveries speckle the landscape near the small town of Irvine, where American Indians once tracked deer, harvested acorns and traded with European explorers.

''There is such a great diversity of artifacts that no matter how much you pick this field, you never run out of material,'' said Hyland, also of the Mercyhurst institution.

Adovasio said humans lived at the site as early as 12,000 years ago, after ancient Indians followed retreating glaciers north. He said the first people to live there year-round were the Hopewell tribe from 100 to 500 A.D.

In the late 1800s, archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute found Hopewell burial mounds in the area.

''There were many tribes in Pennsylvania who seemed to be imitating what the Hopewell were doing, but the artifacts from these burial mounds appeared to be real,'' Adovasio said.

The archaeologists determined where a Hopewell Indian shelter's posts once stood by identifying stains left in the soil by the decomposing wood. That part of the project alone cost $100,000.

Adovasio said he was surprised to find Hopewell Indians ''way out in the Hopewell suburbs,'' so far from what was thought to be their home in Ohio.

He also hopes to uncover the remains of a Seneca village which he believes is near the Allegheny River. The camp was burned to the ground by U.S. Gen. Daniel Broadhead's troops at the end of the Revolutionary War because the Seneca tribe supported the British.

He also hopes to uncover evidence of French and English trading posts in Buckaloons. Until next year, the site is closed, however. Adovasio said the team will examine its findings.

''For every person hour spent here digging an artifact, we spend 13 hours in the lab trying to understand it,'' he said.

''We're the inheritors of tens of thousands of years of human experience.''

Read a version of this story which ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer.