Archaeology of Coastal North Carolina, Part 11



Part 11

(Page 118) An examination of the archeological data brings forth an immediate reaction: it is very sparse. Nearly all the important conclusions must be based on potsherds and those mostly from surface finds. Yet because of good historical documentation for the area, a fairly complete culture history may be evolved.

The pottery does correspond with Algonkian Indian types from farther north, especially the fabric-impressed and cord-marked but the presence of other types such as net impressing, simple stamping and incising-punctating enables us to make deductions about the sources of outside influences. In general, the material culture of the Carolina Sound is quite comparable to that of historic Algonkians as far north as Massachusetts.

It we did not have historical accounts to tell us, there would be nothing in the archeological record to suggest these peoples were agriculturists. Yet this should not be surprising. An appraisal of White's drawings of villages, fields, workers, etc., is very instructive. If every perishable object--and they do perish--were removed not a great amount would be left. There were no stone nor shell agricultural implements, the mortar and pestle were not used as elsewhere in the southeast and few related operations required stone tools. The use of granaries and watch towers to drive away marauding birds and animals are recorded, yet postmolds of these structures are not preserved in the loose sandy soils (Page 119) of the region. The same is true of habitations; no archeological evidence of house structures has been obtained. We are brought back to that opening paragraph regarding pottery--it is the handmaiden of archeology.

One fact that is necessarily true is that the historical documents give a false picture of uniformity; after all, the explorers were hardly interested in relieving some future problem. They were interested in giving a generalized picture; actually, a not very true one to be sure, but the only thing we have. Also, the fact that a similar language prevailed throughout the area would imply quite similar cultures. As a matter of fact, there were many similarities, namely, language, subsistence activities, house types, and social organization. Most of the material culture was similar throughout the area but a new pottery type could be introduced without a language change.

It must be observed that the pottery remains might give an undue picture of uniformity, also. Several times reference has been made to Algonkian pottery being generally the same throughout the eastern United States. This emphasizes the role played by introduced pottery types and trade sherds--they give measure to the time depth of the area. Superficially, great time span might be suggested since many of the pottery types are those that are first in other areas. However, these same types, such as fabric impressed and cord marked, do have great range, and one cannot use the type alone for judgments of antiquity since a given group of peoples may be partaking of any part of the range. There is much to imply historical contact period for many items of the material culture of the Carolina Sound and very little to indicate great antiquity. The conclusion must be reached that most of the archeological remains with which we have dealt are quite recent.

(Page 120) If our archeological materials are virtually all within a historical context, some correlations should be made with historic tribes. It is at this point that the archeologist and historian part company. The latter have no qualms over making statements about the location of an Indian village since their concern is not with specific locations. Archeologists, on the other hand, think some tangible evidence should be found in or on the ground. Aquascogoe is an excellent example--from White's map historians have inferred that this village which Lane destroyed should be on the south shore of Pungo River near Scranton, North Carolina. Unfortunately, there was nothing found in that area. Just across the river were two large sites, P 13 and P 14, and just to the south is P 19, all among the late sites and any one of them could have been Aquascogoe. Actually, the problem of correlating archeological sites with historical references is very complex and requires far more study than is possible in this treatise.

H 1, Cape Creek site, is nearly the only contender for Croatoan, the principal town of the Indians by the name. It has all the necessary recent pottery types plus pipes. It has all the requirements except remains of Raleigh's colonists. There is no documentation of size of Croatoan but the archeological site appears to be large enough to accommodate ten or fifteen houses. It is only this kind of coincidence that may be used, since White's maps and later versions by DeBry and Lawson are at best approximations of the correct locations. White's Map of eastern North America does not indicate a locational "dot" for the village of the Croatoans. This is surprising since White had visited there and been quite well received.

Secotan is another town difficult to locate. Quinn (ibid., p. 871) (Page 121) has analyzed the problem of its location. In the "sketch map of 1585" the location would be judged to be "near the north bank of the Pamlico River, at, or not far from, the site of Bath . . . ." Presumably, this map was made by some member of the 1585 expedition led by Grenville. White, although a member of this expedition did not make this sketch. His later maps place Secotan on the south side of Pamlico River even though he visited Secotan and made several drawings there. There is some doubt throughout most of these early accounts whether a town or a tribe is referred to on maps or in documents. Quinn thinks that White was in error when he located Secotan on the south side of Pamlico River. Mook has made an intensive study of the location of several Indian towns from historical documents. Almost every new researcher arrives at some different location than previous workers. The solution to such problems is not to be found, but new evidence is constantly being brought forth to lend support to new locations.

Archeological evidence overwhelmingly favors the Bath Creek area as the location of Secotan. P 35, Handy Point Site, is situated in the most ideal location for an aboriginal village, being on a high point with Bath Creek on the west and Back Creek on the east. The site has all the desiderata for Secotan, namely, simple-stamped pottery, gun flints, large size, and suggestions of time depth. There is archeological evidence to support a southern shore location but only P 38, Shell Landing Site, has much to recommend it; 12 simple-stamped sherds were found here. In general, P 35 is far more likely. Barlowe's statement that Secotan was near "Wocokin" (Wococon) is irreconcilable with either archeological evidence or other historic documentation. Wococon may have been a part of Portsmouth Island or parts of Portsmouth and Ocracoke. If it were (Page 122) Indian Island perhaps, the statement would hold.

Manns Harbor is located on the site that is generally conceded to be Dasemunkepeue, the seat of the "king" of the Roanoac tribe. Unfortunately, archeological evidence for this village is rather poor. However, what there is strongly favors a late site in that location. A 9, the Manns Harbor site, revealed a preponderance of shell-tempered pottery, but there is a justified belief that the site itself is now in Croatan Sound. Most of the sherds collected are waterworn and difficult to classify because they were recovered from the water. Stumps of large trees are to be seen today about 200 feet offshore, a reliable clue that the shore is being eroded.

Several references have been made to Roanoac village, on the northwest tip of Roanoke Island. It was never a large village; it was abandoned by Indian occupants soon after the Fort was built and never reoccupied permanently. Roanoac village seems to have been largely, if not completely, removed by erosion of the tip of the island. It is unfortunate from many standpoints, but its importance was never great in the sixteenth century

Chawanoac was described by Lane as a town "able to put 700 fighting men in the fielde, besides the forces of the Province it selfe." (Quinn, ibid., p. 259). As to its location Lane is quite indefinite, locating a subject town of Ooanoke but not "Choanoke" itself . White's map would rather vaguely place it somewhere just south of the mouth of Wiccacan Creek on the right (west) bank of the Chowan River, although the location could just as easily be judged to be the mouth of Meherrin River. In general, White's map is more accurate for the Albemarle than the Pamlico Sound, since more time seems to have been spent in the former waters.

(Page 123) The location of such town as Tramaskecooc, presumed to be up Alligator River near Gum Neck, would be sheer fantasy, since the presence of the town was hearsay to the colonists. All of the towns on the Neuse and all on the south side of Pamlico River (if Secotan is on the north side) belong in this same hearsay category.

Obviously, there is some circular reasoning in our archeological analysis, such as the presumption (with evidence to support) that simple stamping, shell tempering, etc., are criteria of late sites. Ergo, these late sites are the candidates for the historically documented villages which, in turn, are the reason the late artifacts, etc., are there. Recognizing this typical research maneuver for what it is worth, the analysis may be carried a step further. We may attempt some correlation of archeological remains and tribal affiliations.

Archeological evidence supports the historical fact that the whole area was occupied by one tribal stock, namely, Algonkians. But this name covers a tremendous number of eastern aborigines, from Hudson Bay to Carolina. There were linguistic variations and in material culture there must have been great differences from group to group. Hence, despite the whole Carolina Sound being dominated by one language family, there still were cultural subdivisions reflected in their tools pottery, activities, and subsistence.

In so far as our immediate problem is concerned, we can recognize three intermediate groups--tribes we may consider them, since each had a chief--the Roanoac, the Croatoan, and the Secotan. The information of tribes and locations is derived from Quinn rather than Mook since the decade that separates their publications has been most productive of information. Barlowe’s account quite clearly indicates that the Roanoac (Page 124) were located at the northern end of Roanoke Island and had another village Dasemunkepeue. The account further implies that the "king" of these Indians was also chief of a considerable portion of the Carolina Sound, including the Secotan. However, this latter is not compatible with'several other references about the Secotan. On Hatteras Island (in 1585 called Croatoan) the Croatoan tribe lived, probably near an inlet Chacandepeco, at the then north end of the island. Chacandepeco is represented today by the low area directly northeast of Buxton. It is possible their chief was a woman, Manteo's mother. Manteo was an Indian who had accompanied Lane to England in 1585 and returned with White in 1587. Manteo and the Croatoan Indians remained friendly with the English; very quickly all others were alienated by Lane, Grenville, etc.

It is evident that the Roanoac and Croatoan were very close but not so unified that it was not possible for Wanchese, another Indian who had gone to England with Lane, and was of the Roanoac, to swing his tribe against the English while Manteo and the Croatoan cast their lot with the colonists. The archeological evidence clearly leaves but one conclusion- the Roanoke Island sites and the Hatteras Island sites were coevals, closely related, and in constant contact. Since it is concluded that the aboriginal pottery, pipe, and implements excavated around Fort Raleigh by Harrington and supplemented by additional collecting in 1955 are the remains of the Roanoac, it also is concluded that Cape Creek Site, H 1, is the seat of the Croatoan.

If the Secotan were nearly identical ethnically there would be evidence in the archeology. There is evidence for lateness and there is an obvious relationship with the Roanoac and Croatoan, but there is not an identical archeological assemblage. By the same token, the sites in (Page 125) Pungo River embayment are of the same cultural affiliation as Secotan (P 35, Handy Point Site). The evidence suggests an archeological substantiation for a Secotan confederacy extending from Bath Creek to Pungo River.

Beyond these statements the archeological data do not lead very clearly. If A 12, Bandon Site, is not the principal village of the Chawanoac, it may be rather representative of that tribe. It is quite patently different from the Banks archeological remains. Historical documentation indicates the tribes were ethnically separate too. This situation and all the foregoing discussion point up the fact that this topic is most complex and deserves a more definitive treatment in the future.


Early Period

(Page 126) The absolute date for the first occupation of the Outer Banks and neighboring mainland cannot be determined now. The time may be guessed at with some accuracy. It was not millenia ago that man first came into the region but it surely was more than one thousand years ago. A nomadic, hunting peoples explored the sounds and islands long before Englishmen did the same. Most of our revenacts of this earliest time must be conjured up from information gleaned elsewhere. We do not have any suggestion that these early hunters were so primitive as to have no knowledge of pottery. It is, as always here, upon pottery that most conclusions must be based. Such sites as P 30 (now actually below water level) P 24, P 28, P 29, C 5, A 2, A 4, and perhaps N 3, are representative of the earliest period despite the fact that several of these have a few sherds of later time context

These peoples were evidently hunter-fisher-gatherers of the usual ingenuity, living off every aspect the land presented. It is readily seen that their staple and dependable food supply was shell-fish, all forms of which were utilized. In those areas such as Colington Island, where an inlet existed in former times, oysters were the most commonly used mollusks but in other waters the freshness or brackishness prohibited the growth of oysters. In these places, forms tolerant to those waters would be most common.

(Page 127) In addition to the shell-fish, bony fish of many kinds were taken and land animals were hunted in a variety of ways. It must be presumed that the bow was the principal weapon but this is not known. There is no archeological evidence for the spear-thrower or atlatl.

These people are considered to be semi-nomadic which means that they moved from place to place and yet kept within a localized area. The population was small, the living groups were probably large families, maybe controlled by one male but reckoning kinship through the mother's side of the family. Such is the situation among living Algonkian hunters of the North.

The absence of any materials antedating that of this first-recognized-pottery-using folk does not mean that earlier peoples were totally absent in the eastern area. Coe has extensive representation of very ancient materials in the Piedmont but nothing comparable has appeared in the coastal region. There is a strong likelihood that any very early sites would long since have been removed by wave action or might be in situations where now-encroaching waters or marsh silts have covered them to some depths. This would be the expectation in view of the probability that the coastline is being driven in and silting is taking place nearly everywhere. Storms disrupt the over-all process from time to time, but it seems probable that deposition is gaining on erosion.

When these earliest migrants came to the coast, it may be certain that they did so because of inability or unwillingness to cope with more progressive peoples--their relatives--in neighboring areas. The Banks and the sounds were not the most attractive areas, especially to agriculturists, and it is guessed that agriculture was coming into the east (Page 128) coast quite strongly by 1000 A.D. This influence led to the next recognizable stage.

Middle Period

The only justification for a cultural horizon between the Early Period and the Late is that there is mixture of the two on some sites. In fact, the very term "middle" implies chronology when actually no time change need be involved. Sites that border the two recognized culture subareas would show this mixing of cultural materials. However, we do have a time difference between the Early Period sites and those showing materials of demonstrated historic times. It is the bridging of these two periods which may be labelled "Middle" Period.

One fact may be shown repeatedly in the coastal region, namely, there is cultural continuity throughout. That is to say that the Indian peoples encountered by the explorers of 1584-1585 were the lineal descendents of the first aboriginals who may have arrived five or ten centuries earlier. Thus, each new trait, such as new pottery type or technique was added to an already established pattern.

In the Middle Period then, life continued much as before but with one important innovation--agriculture. This can be inferred from an increased number of sites showing the mixing of early and later traits. There is no sudden appearance of implements that would herald the rise of agriculture. Perhaps the several new pottery types that make their appearance at this time may be conjectured as agricultural aids. Hunting and shellfish gathering were still pursued. Agriculture was not so productive that these earlier activities could be abandoned; the addition of domesticated food sources meant life was just a bit more secure. As a result of this greater security population increased.

(Page 129) Among the larger sites, P 1 falls in this time-culture category with most of the older pottery types, especially fabric impressed, quite numerous, but cord-marked and net-impressed types present. If the sites were seriated on the basis of cord-marked pottery, P 1 would be very near the bottom or early among the transitional period sites.

Nearly all the Carolina Sounds sites of any size may be considered as having been occupied during this period. Presumably, some were abandoned during this stage since they have no representation of late materials. Sites in this class are P 24, which has only a few late sherds; P 30; A 2, also with just a few simple-stamped sherds; A 12 has no late materials, but it is so far to the west that it probably did not partake of the introduction of late types along the Banks proper. N 3, Vandemere Site, probably belongs here, too.

In general then, the MiddIle Period is significant only in that it marks a transition from early pottery types to later assemblages without replacement or loss of the earlier types. It was during this time that agriculture was probably introduced.

Protohistoric Period

This is the time just prior to the appearance of written accounts by English explorers and colonists. It is largely the picture drawn in the section above relating to historic Indian occupation. It may be considered as beginning about 1500 A.D. and extending to 1585 A.D.

Although it is probably true that no remarkable changes took place in the Carolina Sound during this period, it was a time when there must have been numerous contacts made with other areas, especially with the interior Piedmont and the Virginia coast and Chesapeake. From the (Page 130) present evidence, it cannot be determined with accuracy just when such Banks traits as shell tempering and dentate-stamped pipes were introduced but it must have been an on-going activity of this time.

Eventually more may be known of this period. There may be a wealth of archival materials yet unexplored, especially in Spanish documents, that will bring this period in part into the realm of written history.

Historic Period

The Carolina coast entered the Historic horizon in 1585 when Barlowe gave his account of the Indian peoples. Of course, this record, and the subsequent ones by Lane, White, et al, give only glimpses of the ethnic composition and cultural configuration of the times. With archeological evidence and descriptions of similar peoples to the north, we may make a fairly full life-picture of the folk-ways at the close of the sixteenth century. Such a sketch has been presented in an earlier section of this report, Historic Indian Occupation. There can be but little doubt that the Europeans arrived on the Atlantic Coast at a time when considerable political adjustment was taking place among the aborigines. In a few places, this fact was exploited by the early colonists. Within the Carolina Sound, the Roanoac leader, Wingina (later taking the name Pemisapan) marshalled several groups to his ill-fated plan to exterminate the English. In Virginia, the Powhatan Confederacy was blossoming, about the beginning of the seventeenth century. Farther to the south the Siouan tribes were rallying to a common ceremonial fire. A guess may be hazarded that these larger political movements were coming as a result of more extensive contacts during the protohistoric period. Everywhere in the world, man's first duty is to his kin, next to his local group (tribe) and after that, (Page 131) perhaps, something else. As societies enlarge and social controls become more important the center of loyalty gradually moves from the family circle to this bigger thing called the nation or country. It was just such a transition that was taking place among the Algonkians at the end of the sixteenth century.

Displacement of Aboriginal Culture

After 1590 English contacts with Indian peoples of the Carolina Sound ceased for about a century. During the successful establishment of a colony at Jamestown there seem to have been efforts to locate Raleigh's Colony but certainly these efforts were half-hearted. The process of disintegration of the Indian Population began before 1590. First, Roanoac was abandoned by 1587 when the colonists established themselves there. Also during that year, Dasemunkepeuc on the mainland was deserted.

Not until the time of Lawson (early eighteenth century) does there appear anyone on the scene who again records something of the ethnography of the region. Much of his account is of the last days and reduced numbers of certain tribes. The culture of the white man was so much more potent than the Indian that all semblance of practicing the "old ways"was disappearing. It is certainly true for the Banks that not a single new Indian trait seems to have been introduced after 1600. This may not be wholly true for Pamlico and Albemarle sounds but it is very close to a generalization for all the Carolina Sound.

Perhaps the most marked change that could be seen between the the close of the sixteenth century and the opening of the eighteenth is the reduction in population. There can be little doubt that White Man's blessings such as smallpox and pneumonia decimated certain (Page 132) villages and literally wiped away the people in others. In fact, new tribal names appear, such as Hatteras for those Indians living on Croatoan (Hatteras Island). Presumably these were, at least in part, Croatoans. Lawson (1937, p. 62) naively suggests the source of gray eyes among eighteenth century Croatoans (Hatteras) to be from the absorption of the Raleigh colonists, the Lost Colony, into their body politic. In 1587 the colonists were about 150 and probably outnumbered the Croatoans. There is nothing to even hint that the "lost" colonists were slaughtered or taken into captivity. The condition in which the Fort was left seems to indicate a deliberate departure. Governor White upon his arrival at the scene in 1590 felt that his daughter and the colonists would be safe on Croatoan Island. The fate of the colony was probably some prosaic accident such as their building a pinnace (or pinnaces) and all perishing in an attempt to move to Croatoan or some other place. There is no certain knowledge that any of the "Lost Colony" company had any previous knowledge of the waters of the Carolina Sound. The chances of going astray were numerous.

When the entire panoply of aboriginal history in northeastern North Carolina is examined it becomes evident that this is a classic example of any segment of man's history. Here the physical environment has been a stage upon which all the complex drama has been enacted. It had almost nothing to do with the course of action but limited aboriginal man to certain fields and channeled his exploitation of others which the stage presented as a more striking bit of back drop. Shell fish would be a case in point here--they were present in variety and were utilized to the greatest extent. Everywhere and at all times such is the case. The physical environment presents certain conditions and man moulds them to (Page 133) his needs or adjusts to them as best he can. The manner of the moulding or the adjusting is never his own, but rather it is always that of his father's. The framework in which every culture operates is determined by preceding generations and neither individuals nor groups can do much to change it. So strong is this factor that many peoples make rationalizations of the situation and insist the "good old ways" are the better.

Our aboriginal Bankers and their neighbors were undoubtedly conservatives. They lived in a geographically isolated region and certainly exhibited a great deal of cultural lag and marginality. Their practices in pottery-making in 1500 A.D. were those of Algonkians of 500 to 1000 years earlier in other parts of the East. Only later did history catch up with them and in one fateful century completely engulf them. The Coastal Carolinians disappeared quite as suddenly and dramatically as the Lost Colony.

Copyright 2001
Carolina Algonkian Project