Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Forest with large boulders
Forest with large boulders

A Rockshelter Awakens


Four years of background research and two years of carefully documented shovel test pits finally came to fruition on August 1, 2019. 

The first two buckets from Shovel Test Pit (STP) 6 yielded a dozen or so chert flakes.  Then in that next bucket – pay dirt!!! 

On top of the loose soil and hunks of spalled sandstone sat a beautifully crafted rhyolite Susquehanna Broadspear!  In an instant I’d found what was needed to back up years of work. 

I immediately texted a photo of the find to Hannah Harvey at the PA SHPO and within days had a site number.  Alpenglow Rockshelter, 36LU0349, can now take its official name and move forward into the next phase of study on Council Rock Mountain. 

This small mountain, situated east of the Wyoming Valley in Northeastern PA, is so rich with potential – and virtually untouched.

Hand holding rock spear point.
Susquehanna Broad Spear point found August 1, 2019. Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

First Noticed in 2008

This slender rockshelter first caught my eye in 2008. 

Its opening is currently only 50 cm high, 2 meters back, and 15 meters long at the western end of a 50 meter long meta-sandstone (sandstone that has undergone change due to heat/pressure) ridge.  A vernal pool sits at the upper (eastern) end of a valley parallel to the rockshelter, and a continuously running spring emerges 50 meters west.  The rockshelter faces due south.  This combination of indicators has always made it a perfect candidate for field work.  Unfortunately, when I found it in 2008 I was busy with other things.

Forest with large boulders
Alpenglow Rockshelter with opening at western end. Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

The Council Rocks site – 36LU0306

The nearby Council Rocks site, a still controversial archaeoastronomy site, sits about 200 meters east.  It’s been registered with the PA SHPO since 2011 as 36LU0306

I thank the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA), and the PA SHPO for helping this not-yet-avocational archaeologist so long ago! 

It was in the fall of 2007 that my love of astronomy and affinity for hiking led to a realization of the significance of four oddly shaped 20-ton boulders on a hilltop meadow. 

From then through 2015 and with the help of seasoned academics in several states and countries, I’ve been able to carefully research and credibly document the likely purpose and significance of this 4,000-year-old ceremonial site. 

Acceptance of such a site in this country is still a bit challenging, yet I’m sure its compelling features and ideal setting will increasingly attract academic recognition. 

I’ve given presentations to receptive audiences in many states, most recently in Michigan and Virginia, and had been invited to present at a SEAC (European Society for Astronomy in Culture) event in the United Kingdom in 2016. 

I’ve also had the pleasure and honor of presenting at many SPA meetings.  It was this ongoing work with Council Rocks that led me to put the rockshelter on hold until 2015.

Council Rocks site just prior to Winter Solstice sunset. Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

Rockshelter under serious study since 2015

In 2015, I had an inspiration to measure the slope of the bedrock covering most of this mountain and compare it to the unusually level surface in the valley adjacent to the rockshelter. 

My partner Carla helped record surface elevations in a 12 x 12 meter grid which were then used to construct a 3D model of the valley floor adjacent to the rockshelter.  From this it appeared that the rockshelter, currently open by 50 cm, may have been 4 to 6 meters deep at the time the glaciers receded 12,000 years ago.

3D long view of rockshelter valley. Image by Dave Gutkowski.
3D closeup view of current rockshelter opening. Image by Dave Gutkowski.

While presenting on this theory at the SPA Annual Meeting in Bethlehem that year, I met Dr. George M. Leader, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Dr. Leader visited the site later that year and suggested I start digging STP’s to look for evidence of occupation.  Planning and excavating began the following year. 

By mid 2018, I had what I felt was a good collection of evidence to register the site: STP 1 revealed the perimeter of a possible fire pit at 40 cm, STP 3 had scattered pockets of charcoal, and STP 4 yielded several likely manuports.

I chose to file the PASS report in July of 2018. 

Naming the Site

I also needed to come up with a name for the site.  My partner Carla and I had gone to Maryland in 2015 to see one of her favorite bands, a progressive rock group from Finland called ‘Nightwish’.  They had just released their latest album “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” with songs linked to science as a path to understanding.  

The ninth cut ‘Alpenglow’ has the recurring theme of “We Were Here…”, lyrically describing people who have come before, passed on, and have once again become part of the landscape.  I decided this theme would fit perfectly! 

So when we saw the band again in 2018 I asked their permission to name the site “Alpenglow”.  Of course, they were all delighted and eagerly autographed my Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) report!

PASS form autographed by Nightwish for ‘Alpenglow’.

Unfortunately, the report was not accepted in 2018 for lack of any verifiable culturally modified artifacts or confirmed features, but PA SHPO agreed that it looked promising.  I had to go back to digging.

Summer of 2019 dried up the previously rain-soaked ground and let me get back to work.  In June I found STP 4A fully occupied to 45 cm by one large, sloping monolith.  On July 28th,STP 5 also came up empty, though a gut feeling told me I’d dug in the wrong spot.  Actually, it was a crow, not a gut feeling.  Always listen to nature!

On August 1, I followed that crow’s advice and decided to dig at the base of a large tree.  It didn’t take long to remove the forest floor and find a large root.  Digging to 30 cm on one side of the root I found a dozen chert flakes.  I then dug under the root and toward the exact spot the crow indicated and tossed a few handfuls of dirt on the screen.  Four shakes and one projectile point later, the rest is now history!

The point – the moment it was found in the screen. Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

More work underway

“Alpenglow Rockshelter” is now a reality awaiting a university looking for a field school, or students in need of a thesis, or perhaps the membership of our local SPA Chapter. 

I believe units will be opening this coming spring.  Perhaps the whole length of this 50 meter overhang will eventually be studied, or the other 75 meters on the eastern slope opposite the vernal pool. 

On a recent site visit, and sensing a connection with the Council Rocks ceremonial site, PA SHPO’s Noel Strattan commented that this valley might just have been Motel 6 for the peoples moving along the many known Native American trails in this area and visiting the various resources on this mountain.

I see it as a gathering place for visiting nations: Lenape, Algonquin, etc. coming to visit their Iroquois, Muncy, and Shawnee neighbors to celebrate the change of seasons on this small mountain between two river basins.

Rockshelter long view – so much more to discover! Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

Follow Your Gut

Everything about this mountain has come to light by following gut feelings.

If there’s anything I’d like to impart to others, it’s to remember that every artifact you find was once used and held precious by someone who came before.  Listen with your heart, feel the artifacts and feel the very space you’re working in.  

Following this philosophy has led this avocational with no prior experience in archaeology to the discovery of two very significant sites with many more to come.  Some are already in the works.

Time will tell who the “We” were in “We Were Here….”

A Tail feather from the crow that led directly to STP 6. Photo by Dave Gutkowski.

Today’s Guest Contributor is Dave Gutkowski. Dave is an avocational archaeologist and principal researcher at the Council Rock Mountain project.  His ongoing love of science and learning led him into the field of archaeology upon the discovery of sites referenced in this post.  He is also a storage business owner, licensed massage therapist and Reiki master, retired postmaster, and amateur astronomer.  Dave was born and raised in Pennsylvania and holds an associate degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State University.

Author: Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office occassionally asks our partners to share their news, successes, challenges, and perspectives on historic preservation matters in Pennsylvania.


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