Licking County Landscapes and the Distribution of Prehistoric Occupation Sites

Tod Frolking (Department of Geology, Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA)

Laura Harris Symposium on Native American Culture, Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA

13 April 2005


Licking County, Ohio was partially covered by the Scioto Lobe during the last Wisconsinan Glaciation.  As the Scioto Lobe moved southward, its eastern margin squeezed eastward.  So, ice moved from west to east through Licking County during the Wisconsinan Glaciation.  Till plains in western Licking County are usually clay-rich, resulting in not-well-drained soils.  The eastern side of Licking County has a mix of surface materials.


The last glacial maximum was at 18-20 k.y.

At 18 k.y., there were only a few upland mounds near Newark exposed above the ice in Licking County, as the glaciers began to melt.  Everything else was ice.

By 16.5 k.y., the ice was melting away & stagnating.  A lobe of ice was present in the upper Raccoon Valley, and an outwash valley train was downstream of it.

Glaciers are very dirty places - lots of sediments, lots of slumping of debris.  They are also dusty places.  In the winter, when melting stops, wind blows dust along.

By 15.5 k.y., all ice is gone from Licking County and Franklin County.  A few remnant ice blocks (kettles) in the Raccoon Creek Valley.

Now, thereís a deeper fluvial channel carved into glacial sediments - it's a wider modern floodplain cutting through outwash material.  Weíve also got rugged uplands now - they show little impact from the ice.  Uplands have till-mantled ridges.


Sherm Byers of the Burning Tree Golf Course found a mastodon in 1989 after hiring a backhoe to scoop out peat to modify his golf driving surface.  The back of the skull was found/hit first - the backhoe operator felt resistance.  The Burning Tree Mastodon is a ~complete skeleton.  Tod Frolking helped to excavate this specimen.  This mastodon dates to 11.5 k.y., based on woody material recovered from near the bones.  Intestinal contents were recovered.  Bone cut markings were observed.  The Burning Tree Mastodonís environment was an open spruce woodland with ponds. The time of year of death was determined, as was the mastodonís diet (not spruce, as regarded previously).  The mastodon was butchered, and buried in a winter pond as a cache - determined based on the array of bones - bones were in 4 groups.  So, there were people in Licking County at least by then - Paleo-Indians (? to 10,000 years).


The end-Pleistocene/early Holocene extinction was due to human activity - the same extinction is seen in Australia, occurring once people arrived.  Note that the animals of this extinction survived all previous Pleistocene Ice Age changes.

Smoot Lake, south of Utica, is the only natural lake in Licking County - a kettle lake.  It has been cored to obtain sedimentary cores.  See Ogden & Hay (1967) - did pollen abundance analysis in Torrenís Bog, near Smoot Lake.

Can see a big change in pollen at 11-12 k.y. - spruce was briefly replaced by Pinus (pines), followed by Quercus (oak) & Carya (hickory) dominating at ~10 k.y. to now.  Then, modern clear-cutting resulted in a spike in weed pollen.


Forest canopies dissipate energy from storms - water drips to ground.  So, ground erosion is zero to near-zero in such settings.  So, little landscape change once forests developed after glaciers melt away.  Once the landscape stabilized, got vertical percolation of water + leaf settling, resulting in the development of soil horizons.

A horizon of a soil can develop quickly, in just 10-20 years.

The B horizon of a soil develops slowly - over 1000s and 1000s of years; even after 100,000 yrs., B horizons are still developing.


The outwash terrace of Raccoon Creek Valley is well-drained & flat, resulting in good soils.


Get perennial springs at the Logan-Cuyahoga Formation boundary, along the flanks of the hills straddling the Raccoon Valley, near the top of the outwash terrace.  Springs are common around Granville, including on Denison University campus.


The Munson Spring site, in Munson Hollow, on east side of Granville (just east of Jones Road, northern side of Newark-Granville Road) is now covered by a housing development.  Artifacts were found there at 20-30 cm below the surface.  But, the soils there have demonstrably had no deposition of material since ~10 k.y.  How did artifacts get submerged in soil?  Involution model - soil bioturbation results in artifact sinking - earthworms churn soil - fine sediments cover artifacts - worms canít move flint.  Ants and earthworms can bring a tremendous amount of fine material to the surface - this has been observed.


Alligator Mound in Granville, Ohio was built ~820-840 years ago, apparently - not built by the Woodland culture as traditionally interpreted.  If  it is 820-840 years old, the Ft. Ancient culture was responsible.  Alligator Mound, interpreted to represent a panther, is one of only two effigy mounds in all of Ohio.



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