Sunrise at Millbrook Marsh

An Early History of the Millbrook Marsh Area
Prepared by the Bald Eagle Archeological Society

The Millbrook Marsh Nature Center occupies about 60 acres between Puddintown Road and the Rt. 322 Expressway. The property includes part of Millbrook Marsh, other lowlands along Slab Cabin Creek, and the former Penn State Farm #12. Most of the nature center property is part of the Houserville Archaeological District, an area of about ½ square mile that included lowlands along Spring Creek and Slab Cabin Creek and adjacent uplands. This district contains many prehistoric Native sites and others are nearby. The designation of the archeological district was made by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission following archaeological studies done before the completion of the Rt. 322 Expressway.

Before the expressway was built, much of the flood plain area was farmed. Sites in plowed fields were probably known to local artifact collectors. Other sites in unplowed areas were discovered by digging small holes and screening the soil to check for artifacts. Several sites that were to be partially or completely destroyed by bypass construction were partially excavated by personnel from the Penn State Anthropology Department in 1983. A hearth found on one site was radiocarbon dated; the result was 745 years A.D., plus or minus 80 years. It contained many heavily-burned and closely-packed limestone rocks, charcoal, and some jasper flakes, charred maize and nutshell and wild seeds.

The most common evidence of prehistoric people's presence here are flakes and other stone pieces produced as waste during the manufacture of stone tools, such as projectile points, drills and scrapes. Much of the stone material on sites here is jasper. The jasper source is located along and under East Park Avenue near its intersection with Orchard Road, less than a mile from the Nature Center. The jasper quarry site and the archeological district were determined to be National Register-eligible because they were linked functionally over thousands of years. The jasper source may have been discovered as early as 8000 B.C. Groups camped along the streams while procuring jasper for making new tools. Jasper pieces of good quality were roughly shaped at the quarry and then taken to a camp site where the jasper pieces were shaped further.

While jasper procurement seems to have been the major reason many groups of people were here, they also used other local stone materials, such as chert and flint. The marsh also may have been a focus for hunting some animals and gathering plants that could be used for food or other purposes.

For most of prehistoric time the people who inhabited this region lived by hunting and gathering to fulfill all their needs. By the time of Christ (A.D. l) at least some groups in this region either encouraged or cultivated some native plants, such as gourd and sunflower. A maize variety that was productive in this region was widely planted by A.D. 1000, and maize became a more important food source over the next centuries, although people continued to hunt and gather as before. Instead of moving as often, however, it appears that groups established villages along major rivers and streams, like the Susquehanna west branch and the lower part of Bald Eagle Creek. During the growing season family groups may have left the villages to live in farmsteads or small hamlets along smaller streams where flood plain areas could be planted. One or more of the sites here may have served such a function, given the maize in the hearth already noted and the finding of a stone hoe on that site.

Large pieces of jasper were no longer needed for making spear points after about A.D. 500, when the bow and arrow was adopted in this region. The presence of some arrow tips here indicates that people continued to come here, either to live seasonally or on hunting and gathering forays from villages or hamlets elsewhere.

During the A.D. 1600s the population in the region appears to have decreased significantly. The reasons for this decrease remain unclear. During the 1700s Native groups from the east and the south, for example the Delaware and the Shawnee, moved through Central Pennsylvania on their way to safer areas. Some of them stayed in this region for varying periods. These Natives had adopted many European customs by then. Pennsylvania Native groups divided their loyalties between the English and the French and later between the English and the Colonies during the wars of the 1700s. After the Revolutionary War almost all the Indians left the territory of Pennsylvania; many of them moved west, first to Ohio and later to Oklahoma.