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Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and Background

  • History of Refuge Establishment, Acquisition and Management
  • Purpose of and Need for Action
  • Refuge Purpose
  • Refuge Vision Statement
  • Legal and Policy Guidance
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Mission
  • The National Wildlife Refuge System and its Mission
  • Fulfilling the Promise
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan
  • Partners In Flight
  • Regional Wetlands Concept Plan
  • Ohio River Valley Ecosystem Strategic Plan

2. Planning Process

  • Planning Issues

3. Refuge and Resource Description

  • Physical Environment
  • Water Quality
  • Topography/Soils
  • Geology/Hydrology
  • Air Quality
  • Biological Environment
  • Terrestrial Habitats
  • Wetland Habitats
  • Aquatic Habitats
  • Fish and Wildlife
  • Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Species
  • Socioeconomic Environment
  • History/Archaeology
  • Land Use
  • Recreational Use

4. Management Direction

  • Refuge Management Direction: Goals and Objectives
Goal 1 (Habitat)
Goal 2 (Biological Monitoring)
Goal 3 (Priority Public Uses)
Goal 4 (Raise Public Awareness)
Goal 5 (Staff and Facilities)
  • Alternatives Considered, but eliminated from detailed study
  • Summary of Management Actions and Strategies (Figure 4)
  • Summary of Potential Impacts (Figure 5)

5. Implementation and Monitoring

  • Background
  • Step-Down Management Plans
  • Proposed Staffing Chart (Figure 6)
  • Compatibility Determinations
  • Plan Performance
  • Partnership Opportunities
  • Monitoring and Evaluation


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Comprehensive Conservation Plan

Archeological Overview of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge

A recent geomorphological and archaeological reconnaissance study of the Ohio River Island NWR, classify the islands into three general types:

  • those islands with sediments with recent origins not likely to contain prehistoric archaeological sites;
  • islands with Holocene sediments likely to contain historic artifacts close to the surface and deeply buried prehistoric sites; and
  • islands which contain a core area of Pleistocene sediments, overlaid by shallow Holocene age sediments which are likely to contain prehistoric and historic resources closer to the surface (Diamanti 1998).

The processes of island formation have a direct implication for the potential of archaeological resources within the soils of the Refuge islands. Because we now understand the processes that formed the islands within the Refuge area, we can better manage archaeological resources and better predict which islands are more likely to have archaeologically sensitive areas. Island formation is also relevant to what kinds of prehistoric sites could exist on the individual islands. For example, if an island only contains late Holocene sediments (i.e. 4,000 years before present (BP) to present), then Paleoindian and Early Archaic sites would not exist on that island.

Paleoindian (11,000-9,000 BP)

Early Paleoindians were the first people to inhabit the Midwestern United States and to exploit its various resources such as lithics, fish, birds, mammals and various flora. Most archaeologists would agree that people first pioneered this area in the late Pleistocene somewhere between 11,500 and 10,500 years ago (Dincauze 1994, Haynes et. al. 1984, Jacobson 1999, Tankersley 1989). The traditional view is that Paleoindians were highly mobile hunter-gatherers primarily subsisting from Big Game (Mega Fauna) such as giant bison, mammoth, and mastodont. More recent studies (see Jacobson 1999 for discussion) argue that Paleoindians also exploited a variety of smaller animals and various plants, especially aquatic plants such as cat tails and water tubers (McWeeney 1999).

Paleoindians would gather rocks to make their tools, such as the diagnostic fluted projectile point commonly referred to as Clovis, very often from resources located hundreds of kilometers from where they were discarded. Therefore, when archaeologists can identify the source of a stone (lithic) material from a Paleoindian site, they can reconstruct the mobile patterns of the Paleoindians. Several quarries that Paleoindians exploited are located in Ohio, Kentucky and adjacent states. These materials (such as Upper Mercer Chert) have been found several kilometers away in areas such as eastern Pennsylvania (Tankersley 1989, Lepper 1989). Other tools Paleoindians made include many food processing tools and possibly engraved bone tools and beads. Unfortunately, non-stone materials are in a poor state of preservation if they still exist at all, therefore archaeologists are uncertain as to how much of the Paleoindian tools kit is not represented by the stone tools.

The Archaic (9,500-2,500 BP)

Archaeological data collected from surface surveys and excavations throughout the Midwest indicate that the formation of most Early Archaic sites resulted from short term occupations by small, highly mobile groups. Stafford (1991) concluded that Early Archaic, and possibly Middle Archaic groups, utilized a subsistence strategy characterized by frequent movement in lush areas, mostly along drainage basins. This adaptation would maximize their foraging efforts in various 'patch' environments. Thus, the Early Archaic is characterized as highly mobile small bands of people, primarily exploiting water courses.

The Archaic begins in the Holocene when the climate is changing to more modern conditions. The people during this time period are classified as hunters and gathers. Through time, more efficient subsistence practices resulted in a shift from high mobility as seen in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene to more logistically organized foraging strategies in the middle to late Holocene times. The Archaic is divided into early, middle and late. Each of these periods is distinguished primary by the stone tools the people made, the introduction of horticulture, changes in burial practices and changes in social structure.

The Woodland Period (2,500 BP- AD 1650)

The effects of the Woodland cultures upon the landscape are dramatic. Exotic plant species are introduced from Mexico, massive amount of earth is moved for mound construction, and exotic artifacts are brought in from far places such as Yellowstone obsidian (volcanic glass), mica from the Appalachians, and shells from the Gulf of Mexico. Some archaeologists speculate that it was even more complex than culture in medieval Europe.

In the Ohio Valley, the Early Woodland is associated with the Adena culture. The Adena culture is primarily characterized as using pottery and constructing conical mounds for interment. Ritualized status, rank burial, and construction of burial mounds had their roots in the Late Archaic, but became highly expressed in the Adena culture. (See Brose 1994 for in-depth discussion).

The beginning of the Middle Woodland period is marked by changes in the social, political, and economic organization of groups in the eastern United States (Roper and Lepper 1991: 78). These changes resulted in complex sociocultural integration across regional boundaries via networks of trade, which has been described as the Hopewell Interaction Sphere (Brose 1994, Caldwell 1964, Strtuver 1964). The term Hopewell applies to a particular archaeological assemblage that has been found from western New York to Kansas City and from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Huron. The Hopewell have been divided into two dominant complexes or focal areas. These are the Hopewell of southern Ohio and the Havana societies in the Illinois River Valley and adjacent areas. Both are regarded as Hopewell, but the Ohio focus, the culmination of Late Archaic and Early Woodland trends, is much more dramatic and elaborate in terms of stylistic traits, mortuary ceremonialism, and complexity of earthworks (Diamanti 1998).

In Ohio, Hopewell is characterized by elaborate geometric earthworks, enclosures and mounds that are often associated with multiple burials and a wide array of exotic ceremonial goods. Materials used in ceremonies and burials were acquired from various regions in North America. For example, copper and silver from the Upper Great Lakes Region, quartz crystals and mica from the Lower Allegheny region, obsidian and grizzly bear teeth from the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico, shark and alligator teeth, marine shells, and pearls (Prufer 1964:75, Jenning 1968).

On the basis of the material culture and structures built by the Hopewell, archaeologists generally believe that they were a complex society with inherited rank, and the leaders wielded enough power to persuade lower class individuals to construct massive earthworks. These earthworks were built by filling baskets with soil and slowly constructing a mound. The construction of the mounds not only required many labor hours, but also dramatically affected the landscape both visually (the mounds were highly visible from afar) and geologically (because of the amount of earth moved to construct them).

In the middle Ohio River Valley, the Late Woodland is marked by the appearance of large, densely occupied villages located on high terraces overlooking major rivers (Maslowski 1985). The shift to nucleated villages was gradual, as dispersed hamlets and camps remained a part of the settlement system (Roper and Lepper 191:89).

Late Prehistoric Period (A.D. 900-1650)

The Late Prehistoric period encompasses the Fort Ancient and Missippian cultures, as well as Late Prehistoric occupations leading up to the period of European contact. The Fort Ancient and Mississippian cultural sequence can be described as a period of Mesoamerican-influenced cultural complexity built on a very effective subsistence base. Cahokia, a Mississippian center in Illinois, controlled a sphere of influence that extended into the middle Ohio River Valley. Both Fort Ancient and Monongahela represent cultures of the Late Prehistoric period that operated in central Ohio and western Pennsylvania under the sphere of Cahokian influence. Fort Ancient is characterized by hilltop forts accompanied by plaza complexes. Burials were placed in cemeteries and house floors (symbolizing a direct connection with the place of residence), thus reducing the amount of mound construction. Pottery was shell tempered (Diamanti 1996).

A relatively high density of Fort Ancient sites has been recorded in the middle Ohio River Valley, indicating that this area was an important focus of Mississippian occupation. Fort Ancient sites are typically surrounded with stockades and exhibit circular house patterns, with individual houses dispersed around a central courtyard (Diamanti 1998).

Contact Period (A.D. 1500-1800)

Historic descendants of prehistoric groups in southern Pennsylvania are not known. By 1600, the Iroquoian Susquehannocks occupied the Susquehanna River southward to its mouth (Snow 1976). The Susquehannocks gained control over the Ohio River Valley. As with European glass and metal objects, Susquehannock-derived artifacts are not uncommon on protohistoric Monongahela sites (Johnson 1981).

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Ohio River Valley was populated by several sedentary aboriginal groups. It is assumed that even before direct contact with Europeans was established, their presence in the New World unbalanced an ecological system that had existed over many millennia. Etiological studies of disease have shown that contagions follow the same routes through which goods and information are transmitted. Consequently, the diseases that remained muted as endemic forms in European populations raged in epidemic proportion in New World populations, devastating the aboriginal population.

The Fur Trade Wars (c. 1630-1680) dramatically altered the distribution of animals and the Native American populations. As a result of the Fur Trade Wars and the invading Iroquois League of Five Nations, the Monongahela were dispersed or destroyed by about 1635 (Johnson 1990). In response to alliances in the French and Indian War, Pontiac's War, The Revolutionary War, St. Clair and Waynes campaign, and the War of 1812, the power of controlling Native groups in Ohio shifted often.

Before 1789, Native American groups were forced to give up their lands without any recompense, as a right of conquest. The government realized this policy was inefficient, as the newly formed United States did not have sufficient forces to enforce such policy. In 1789, the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthus St. Clair, offered Native Americans payment for their lands, but they were forced to give up what is now the state of Ohio in return. (Diamanti 1998).

While some settlement by French and British fur traders around forts and missions began in the eighteenth century, the first extensive Anglo-American settlement of the Northwest Territory began along the Ohio River around 1790, after the 1789 treaty was signed. The search for good agricultural land was the major impetus to westward migration and settlement of the Northwest Territory. The Ohio River and its tributaries offered limited bottom lands suitable for cultivation, and these areas were quickly settled (Diamanti 1998:45).

Islands on the Ohio River that were suitable for cultivation were also settled at this time, often originally by squatters. Farm products such as grain, tobacco, livestock and distilled liquor were the first materials produced for market. Settlement progressed rapidly in areas where it was promoted, such as the Ohio Company lands, and more slowly where the acquisition of land was hampered by administrative difficulties, such as the Virginia Military District. The population was sufficient to achieve statehood by 1803, when Ohio became the seventeenth state. The river became a major transportation and settlement route, and taverns and stores were built on some islands. Other islands formed bases for river pirates. Steamboat traffic began at an early date. Fords near some islands, which had been important prehistorically, now hampered river traffic, but enabled escaped enslaved Africans to flee to the free soil of Ohio. They were also used by the rebel survivors of the Battle of Buffington Island in Morgan's retreat to West Virginia.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the region felt the afflictions of the Civil War and the development of the Industrial Revolution. In the twentieth century, the Ohio River itself was transformed by human engineering. The level of the river has been raised by a set of locks and dams. The fords and portions of the Refuge islands that were above the water during the prehistoric and early historic periods are now inundated.


Brose, David S. 1994. Trade and Exchange in the Midwestern United States. In Prehistoric Exchange Systems in North America.. Edited by Timothy G. Baugh and Jonathon E. Ericson.. pp215-240. Plenum Press, New York.

Caldwell, John A. 1964. Interaction Spheres in Prehistory. In Hopewellian Studies, edited by J. R. Caldwell and R. L. Hall, pp. 133-143. Illinois State Museum Scientific Paper 12 (6).

Diamanti, Melissa 1998. Archaeological Reconnaissance of Ohio River Island National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania, West Virginian and Kentucky and Phase I Archaeological Survey of Manchester Island No. 2, Kentucky. Report submitted to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 5, Hadley, Ma.

Dincauze, Dena. 1993. Pioneering the Pleistocene: Large Paleoindian Sites in the Northeast. In Archaeology of Eastern North America Papers in Honor of Stephen Williams, edited by James B. Stoltman, pp. 43-60. Mississippi Department of Archives and History Archaeological Report No. 25. Jackson.

Haynes,C. Vance, D. Jack Donahue, A. J. T. Jull, and T. H. Zabel. 1984. Applications of Accelerator Dating To Fluted Point Paleo-Indian Sites. Archaeology of Eastern North America 12:184-191.

Jacobson, Victoria. 1999. Settling into Landscape: An Analysis of Small Paleoindian Sites in the Northeast. Unpublished Master of Arts Thesis. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Jennings, J. D. 1968. Prehistory of North America. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Johnson, W.C. 1981. The Campbell Farm Site (36FA26) and Monongahela: A Preliminary Examination and Assessment. Paper presented at the Fourth Monongahela Symposium, State College, Pennsylvania.

Lepper, Bruce T. 1988. Early Paleoindian Foragers of Midcontinental North America. North American Archaeologist 9:31-51.

Maslowski, R. F., 1985. Woodland Settlement Patterns in the Mid-to Upper Ohio Valley. West Virginia Archaeologist 37(2):23-34.

McWeeny, Lucinda J. 1994. Archaeological Settlements Patterns and Vegetation Dynamics in Southern New England in the Late Quaternary. PhD. dissertation, Yale University, New Haven.

Prufer, Olaf H. 1964. The Hopewell Complex of Ohio. In Hopewellian Studies, edited by Joseph R. Caldwell and Robert L. Hall, pp. 35-84. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers 12, Springfield.

Roper, D. C. and B. T. Lepper. 1991. Archaeological Data Recovery frm Four Sites at the William H. Zimmer Generating Station, Clermont County, Ohio. Repot prepared for American electric Power Service Corp., Columbus.

Snow, Dean. 1978. Late Prehistory of the East Coast. In Northeast, edited by B. G. Trigger, pp. 58-69. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15, W.C. Sturtevant, general editor. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C..

Struver, Stuart. 1964. The Hopewell Interaction Sphere in Riverine-Western Great Lakes Culture History. Illinois State Museum Scientific Paper 12(3):85-106.

Tankersly, Kenneth B. 1989. A Close Look at the Big Picture: Early Paleoindian Lithic Resource Procurement in the Midwestern United States. In Eastern Paleoindian Lithic Resource Use. Edited by Christopher J. Ellis and Jonathan C. Lothrop. Investigations in American Archaeology. Westview Press, Boulder.


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