The Prehistoric Archaeological Record of Williams County, Ohio: A Preliminary Investigation

Erica L. Cameron and J Ryan Duddleson
The Mannik & Smith Group



In March 2005, The Mannik & Smith Group (MSG) completed a 655-acre Phase I reconnaissance survey in Williams County, Ohio (Figure 1).  This survey, which included an entire township section, recorded 21 previously unidentified sites, including eight historic and 13 prehistoric sites.  These sites included small artifact scatters and isolated finds primarily recovered from surface contexts (Cameron et al. 2005).  

Figure 1

Including these 21 sites, the Ohio Archaeological Inventory (OAI) at the Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO) lists only 71 archaeological sites in Williams County.  The 21 sites identified by MSG increased the inventory for the county by 42%.  

After realizing the potential impact of our survey, we decided to examine the prehistoric archaeological record of Williams County.  Our first goal was to compare the results of our survey with previously identified sites recorded in the OAI.  Secondly, we wanted to examine how the landscape affected the location and types of sites present.  

For the purposes of this study, we focused on archaeological sites with prehistoric components that are recorded in the OAI.  Fifty-seven of the 71 sites recorded in Williams County have prehistoric components.  By limiting our study to the sites recorded in the OAI at OHPO, we maintained a finite and consistent database.  

Environmental Background

Williams County is located in the extreme northwest corner of Ohio.  This part of Ohio lies in a transition zone between the Glacial Till Plains and the Glacial Lake Plain.  The Fort Wayne and Wabash Moraines traverse the western half of the county from northeast to southwest.  The end and ground moraines are characterized by sandy, gravelly uplands marked by small kettles.  These areas would have provided dry ground for settlement as well as upland plant and animal resources. The southeastern portion of the county is within the glacial lake plains that were part of the Great Black Swamp until it was drained in the 19th century.  The lake plain, in addition to the kettle lakes and rivers, would have provided numerous wetland resources.  

Archaeological Record

The seemingly small number of sites recorded in Williams County is likely a factor of the limited number of professional surveys in the county.   At the time of this study, 14 cultural resource management surveys had been conducted in Williams County.  These projects, including the 655-acre MSG survey, totaled approximately 1,400 acres, or 0.5% of the entire county.  

The 2005 MSG survey recorded 13 prehistoric lithic isolates and small lithic scatters.  Diagnostic projectile points represent the Middle Archaic, Late Archaic, Middle Woodland, and Late Woodland periods (Figure 2).   Including the 2005 data set, the OAI lists 57 sites with prehistoric components.  While all major temporal periods are represented, most of the sites (N=36) cannot be assigned to a particular time period.  

Figure 2

A summary of site types represented in the county is more problematic than temporal periods.  While one petroglyph and two mound sites are included in the inventory, 54 of the sites are represented by isolated finds (N=17) and artifact scatters (N=37).  Furthermore, some of these sites are only known through private collections and therefore, much of the information regarding site type, size, and even the number of sites represented has been lost.  

With the exception of the two mound sites and the petroglyph site, the remaining 54 sites are small, ephemeral, and generally unremarkable.  While these sites individually do not greatly increase our understanding of the past, collectively they can tell us much about the prehistory of the region.  


One of the goals of this study was to examine all recorded sites to determine settlement patterns.  We predicted that sites would be found on better drained land forms and that larger sites would be found along major drainage ways while smaller, ancillary sites would be located further from permanent water sources.  We examined several variables such as distance to water, soil type, soil drainage, and elevation.  Unfortunately, the small sample size prevented statistically verifiable conclusions regarding prehistoric settlement patterns.

By examining the sites collectively, however, we were able to make several general observations regarding prehistoric land use in Williams County.  For example, most of the sites are small lithic scatters and isolated finds.  They are distributed across the county and range from the PaleoIndian through Late Woodland periods.  Little indication of substantial, long-term settlement has been identified.  Rather, the sites are indicative of small, task specific sites occupied for short periods of time while people exploited locally available resources.  The high proportion of tools to other lithic materials such as primary flakes or cores suggests a high level of utilization of the landscape and low levels of refurbishing or manufacture (Holdaway et al. 1998; Sullivan 1987).  In short, people were bringing completed tools with them to the area.  A pattern of short term, task specific sites is also reflected in site density.  Some of the surveyed areas have yielded a relatively large number of small, diffuse prehistoric sites.  Together, these trends suggest an extensive, but limited use of the landscape throughout prehistory for the purpose of exploiting locally available resources.  This preliminary study demonstrates that the collective analysis of individually unremarkable sites can lead to a better understanding of regional prehistory.  

References Cited

Cameron, Erica L., J Ryan Duddleson, and Theresa E. Claxton
2005    Phase I Archaeology Survey for the Proposed Menard, Inc. Distribution Center, Sections 3, 4, and 9 of Madison Township and Section 29 of Jefferson Township, Ohio.  The Mannik and Smith Group, Inc.  Copies on file at the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, Columbus.

Holdaway, Simon, Dan Witter, Patricia Fanning, Robert Musgrave, Grant Cochrane, Trudy Doelman, Simone Greenwood, Dan Pigdon, and Jamie Reeves
1998    New Approaches to Open Site Spatial Archaeology in Sturt National Park, New South Wales, Australia.  Archaeology in Oceania, 33:1-19.

Sullivan, Alan P., III
1987    Probing the Sources of Lithic Assemblage Variability: A Regional Case Study Near the Homolovi Ruins, Arizona.  North American Archaeologist 8(1):41-71.

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