Archaeological Resources Over 12,500 archaeological sites have been documented in West Virginia thus far. These sites represent a wide range of time from the earliest human occupation some 11,000 years ago to the more recent past. In order to better understand our predecessors, archaeologists investigate the material remains recovered from archaeological sites (the things that people made and used and the remnants of the plants and animals that people ate) and the context in which they were discovered. Archaeologists also work with other scientists to reconstruct the paleoenvironment, how it changed through time and how it might have affected people’s lives. Together, this information portrays a more complete picture of what life was like for people hundreds and thousands of years ago and the reasons why their lives or cultures changed through time. This vast stretch of time in our past is divided by archaeologists into the prehistoric period and the historic period.
The prehistoric era encompasses sites that date from the end of the Pleistocene to ca. A.D. 1700, which is when Europeans first began settling the land that is now West Virginia. The rich legacy of West Virginia’s prehistoric past is represented by archaeological sites such as quarries and other workshops, campsites, petroglyphs, earthworks, mounds and villages. Based on differences observed in these sites through time and in the material items that were left behind, archaeologists have broken the prehistoric past into different periods referred to as Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Late Prehistoric.
West Virginia’s earliest European ancestors also left their mark on the land. Historic archaeological sites such as frontier forts and other types of military encampments, battlefields, and the ruins of early farmsteads, communities and industrial complexes have been discovered throughout the state. Archaeological study of these resources has enhanced our understanding of people’s lives from the 18th through the early 20th centuries and increased our knowledge of changes in agricultural practices through time, the rise of various industries such as salt, timbering and coal, and how these industries have affected people’s lives.