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Eight Feet Under: A Site Identification and Geomorphological Study on the South Branch of the Potomac for the Romney Bridge Replacement

Physiographic provincesHampshire County, West Virginia
State Project No. S214-50-7.22.00
Federal Project BR-0050(177)E
(Report on file at WV Division of Culture and History)

Conducted for:
West Virginia Department of Transportation
Division of Highways

Prepared by:
Jonathan C. Lothrop, Ph.D.<email>
Barbara Munford, M.A.
David L. Cremeens, Ph.D., CPSS
Renee Sobota

GAI Consultants, Inc.
3412 Chesterfield Avenue
Charleston, West Virginia 25304

During July and August, 2003, GAI Consultants, Inc. (GAI) conducted a Phase Ib archaeological and geomorphological survey of Alternative 6 of the proposed Romney Bridge replacement project, Hampshire County, West Virginia for West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) (Figure 1).

The existing Romney Bridge carries U.S. Route 50 over the South Branch of the Potomac River, west of Romney. Design Alternative 6 will replace the existing Romney Bridge with a new structure, situated 200 feet (61 meters) north and downstream.

In the proposed Alternative 6 right-of-way on the West Bank, geomorphological backhoe trenching on the T1 terrace revealed a shallow buried A horizon 78-90 cm below surface. Phase Ib shovel tests revealed that over most of this landform, however, recent flood scouring had removed this buried soil. Five positive shovel tests produced 15 artifacts in the western portion of the new right-of-way. These finds probably represent the margin of a previously recorded prehistoric site. Most of these artifacts were recovered in historic or recent alluvium and have been redeposited. GAI recommended no further archaeological investigations at this location.

Click for detailed soil profileIn the East Bank right-of-way, geomorphological trenching on the Holocene T1 terrace defined a complex sequence of four buried soils overlain by historic or recent flood deposits (Figure 2). Shovel testing and test unit excavation delineated a low-density, near-surface artifact scatter near the river bank. Provenience of positive shovel test probes indicates this artifact distribution extends both north and south of the projected Alternative 6 right-of-way. Testing produced a small sample of bifaces, cores and chert flakes, including a Late Woodland triangular point and three eroded ceramic sherds. These artifacts relate another previously recorded site of Late Woodland affiliation. Integrity of this near-surface component is poor; most artifacts were recovered from historic or recent alluvium. Consequently, GAI recommended no further investigation of this near-surface component.

Photo 1, Test Unit 1

Photo 1. Renee Sobota, GAI Consultants, Inc., photographing Feature 1 (encountered in stepped Test Unit 1 at 2.44 m below surface).

Deep testing in the East Bank right-of-way on the same T1 terrace identified an Archaic platform hearth feature at 2.45 m (8 feet) below surface (Photo 1). First encountered in a backhoe trench during geomorphological investigations, the hearth consisted of a single course of 80 oxidized river cobbles (Photo 2, Figure 3). Excavation in the buried A horizon also produced 25 chert flakes and an unfinished, stemmed projectile point, the latter found immediately below Feature 1. The point is a broad-blade, stemmed biface that broke during manufacture; although unfinished, it bears similarities to Late Archaic Savannah River and Middle Archaic Stanly points.

These archeological remains are associated with the fourth and deepest buried A horizon (Ab’’’), encountered at 2.47-2.54 m below surface (see Figure 10). Radiocarbon dating of pooled samples of wood charcoal (oak, white ash, honey locust), hand-collected from three proveniences within Feature 1, produced a conventional radiocarbon determination of 3550 ±80 BP (two sigma calibrated: 2125-2075 B.C. and 2055-1685 B.C.) (Beta-182329; charred material; 13C = -25.0 o/oo [est]); this determination suggests that the stemmed point recovered below Feature 1 is Late Archaic in age.

The discovery of Feature 1 and associated artifacts are interpreted as evidence of projectile point manufacture and cooking or other food-processing activities during an Archaic Native American encampment on this now-buried terrace surface. Based on discovery of this buried Archaic component with potentially good integrity, Site 46Hm63 was recommended as potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion D. Pending span arrangement design studies for the proposed bridge, GAI further recommended Phase II testing of the buried Archaic component to delineate horizontal extent in the APE relative to potential bridge pier locations, and to conclusively evaluate NRHP eligibility of Site 46Hm63. Phase II fieldwork is anticipated for summer, 2004.

Photo 2, hearth feature Feature 1, Plan view

Photo 2. Plan view of Feature 1 (Signboard placed on
backfilled backhoe trench that first exposed feature).

Figure 3. Sketch of Feature 1.

Soil profile and description, Test Unit 1 (south wall) [return to text]

Test Unit 1 Soil Profile, South Wall

[return to text]

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