J. Frank Sterling was a Marple commissioner whose passion of archaeology led to a great find in his own town, almost 70 years ago.
In an area off Langford Road, Sterling found a collection of arrowheads, pottery fragments and other items, including a skeleton that became known as the “Broomall Indian Princess,” from the Lenape tribe almost centuries prior.
Parts of this find are among the collection at the Delaware County Historical Society to this day.
The Lenape settled in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, including what is now Delaware County, which they called “Lenapehoking.” They were a farming people, with women doing most of the farming, including harvesting corn, squash and beans and men hunting by shooting deer, elk, turkeys and small game.
The Lenape are believed to have had encampments in Philadelphia and the Schuylkill Valley but they came to Delaware County weekly or monthly for hunting trips.
In 1943, Sterling was excavating two rock shelters in the area of Langford Road. There, he found 170 arrowheads, fragments of pottery, vessels, tobacco pipes, an axe-head, scrapers, a stone anvil and mortars and pestles.
Three years later, the woman’s skeleton was found and a team from the University of Pennsylvania headed by Dr. Mary Butler was called to help formally excavate the grounds.
After she was retrieved, the woman was determined to be 5 feet, 3 inches tall and about 37-years-old. She had lost 25 teeth before her death and had suffered from arthritis in her cervical and lumbar vertebrae.
She was believed to be a chieftain’s wife because of some indications in her burial such as the positioning of her body in a fetal position and the items, such as flowers and a ceremonial post, which had been placed at her grave.
Most of the Lenape had moved west, except for some individual groups, by 1775. At one time, many items were found of their existence here but even by the time Sterling came upon the rock shelters, finds of that size were rare.
Parts of his discovery have been dispersed into personal collections as well as other institutions, such as the Museum of Indian Culture in Allentown.
However, many items from arrowheads to axe heads can be found right here.
The Lenape collection is housed at Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center. The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 1 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The museum’s telephone number is 610-872-0502. Parking is free on the society lot behind the building or across the street in the municipal lot.
Membership in the Delaware County Historical Society ranges from $10 for students, $27 for individuals to $250 at the patron level. It includes free admission to the society’s Chester museum and library at 408 Avenue of the States, the society newsletter and preferred reservations and discounts for lectures and events. To join, please visit www.padelcohistory.org or call 610-359-0832.
Shown are some of the arrowheads and Lenape artifacts housed at the Delaware County Historical Society Museum, Library & Research Center.
The skeleton of a woman believed to be in her late 30's was discovered at the Broomall excavation almost 75 years ago.