Geoarchaeology of a Strath Terrace in the Upper Ohio Valley, West Virginia

Abstract | Soil characterization and distribution on a narrow ridge strath terrace bordering the Ohio River in the northern panhandle of West Virginia was evaluated to determine the stratigraphic context of the cultural remains of two prehistoric archaeological sites. Five soil map units were delineated in the project area based on the distribution of regolith materials and associated soil characteristics. Shale and sandstone residuum in the central crest of the ridge is covered with a laterally discontinuous mantle of Pleistocene alluvium, 0.25 to >1.2 m thick, and a continuous mantle of Late Pleistocene loess, 0.25 to 1.1 m thick. Hapludalfs formed in the loess over alluvium, or in loess over residuum, indicate moderate to long-term (e.g., 12,000 yr) pedogenesis. On steep shoulder slopes, Dystrudepts in shallow residuum with little to no loess indicate limited pedogenesis and possible early to mid-Holocene erosion. Panhandle Archaic inhabitants of Site 46Br31 (?6090–3400 yr BP) harvested freshwater mussels from the Ohio River below the ridge, and after consumption discarded the shells on the shoulder slopes at the southern end of the ridge. The resultant shell middens, largely disturbed by 20th century relic hunters, form a complex map unit of Dystrudepts and Udorthents. The distribution of soils on this ridge and the associated archaeological remains indicate that the successive occupations of prehistoric Native American inhabitants lived on the same ground surface. The resultant cultural remains were not buried or stratigraphically separated. The modern soil surface is an approximate, although eroded, remnant of the occupied ground surface. The vertical distribution of artifacts reflects several millennia on a mature soil surface with an evolving biomantle.

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