The Carolina Algonkians, Page 2




This section of the report presents a summary of research accomplished and preliminary results and conclusions for each of the sites or localities investigated during this grant year. It is by no means a final analysis, therefore conclusions and interpretations offered here should be taken as tentative until detailed analysis and comparative studies have been accomplished.


The archaeological site of Chowanoke is located on the western bank of the Chowan River in Hertford County (Figure 1) along a series of high bluffs that extend for approximately one mile along the river. Chowanoke was the capital town of the Carolina Algonkian society of the same name, and was described by Ralph Lane as having a population sufficient to put 700 fighting men into the field, a figure which implies a total population of at least 2100 people for the town. Harriot (1590:24-25), on the other hand, said that the greatest "wiroans" and his government (the Chowanoke ruler and society) had but 18 towns, the largest with 30 longhouses (probably Chowanoke, the capital), able to put 700 or 800 fighting men into the field from the total population. Somewhere between the figures in the two statements lies reality; 30 longhouses with an average of 15 persons per house gives a town population of 450. But Harriot also observed, in relation to the town of Pomeioc, that the "towns" or town clusters contained only the houses of the ruler and nobility, and the temples or other public buildings and areas, thus the 30 longhouses at Chowanoke may have been only the central "core", with commoners' residences dispersed along the shore. Lane's 1586 description of the location of Chowanoke is one of the most specific in the English records; he says: "From (Page 6) Muscamunge (near Edenton) we enter the river, and the jurisdiction of Chowanoke (the society): there the river (the Chowan) beginneth to straighten until it comes to Chowanoke (the town) and then groweth to be a narrowe as the Thames betweene Westminster and Lambeth" (Quinn and Quinn 1982:25). The archaeological site of Chowanoke is located exactly on the only high bluffs at that point where the river begins to narrow between Hertford and Gates counties and where environmental factors and location below the mouth of the Wiccacon River at its confluence with the Chowan confirm both Lane's description and the location shown on two of John White's maps.

Figure 3. Topography and Excavated Areas (31HF30) - Area B. (Page 7)

Figure 4. Excavations in progress in the northern (left) and southern (right) sections of Area B (31HF30). (Page 8)

Figure 5. Contents of Colington phase Feature 3 (left) and Dog Burial 1 (right). (Page 9)

Feature 6. Colington ceramics (upper left) and charred antler (upper right) from Feature 3. Bone pins (lower left) and Mount Pleasant ceramics (lower right) from Feature 16. (Page 10)

The archaeological site of Chowanoke has been recorded as two separate sites, 31HF20 (Mount Pleasant complex) and 31HF30 (Liberty Hill complex), and each of these sites has been further subdivided into areas (Figure 2) in order to facilitate better control of this large and complex town area. Previous work (1971) at 31HF20 had centered on salvage after bull-dozing of the small, southern Area C, a densely occupied residential area which produced evidence of house patterns, tools and food remains normal to residential activities. Thousands of ceramic and stone specimens had been collected from the surface of Area B, 31HF20, and a feature (cooking pit) excavated in one of the 1980 tests had produced a radiocarbon date of A.D. 825, the earliest date for the Colington phase (Carolina Algonkian) occupation of the site; equally important, the midden (refuse) zone in the northern section of Area B, also tested in 1980, was found to be intact below the depth of plowing. At 31HF30, a test square was opened in the north section of Area B in 1971, and this small sample suggested a residential zone similar to Area C at 31HF20.

Research under this project was conducted at Chowanoke from May 16 to July 30, primarily in the 31HF30 complex. Because Area B at 31HF20 was under cultivation in the summer, mapping, test excavations and controlled surface collections were accomplished there in February and March, 1984. Work at 3IHF30 included the establishment of a master grid which can be extended as necessary to any area of the site, general and specific topographic mapping, excavations and tests in areas A, B and F, and surface collections of these areas as well as Area E. At 31HF20, excavation and mapping of Area A was accomplished and a master grid established for that site complex. The 1984 work in Area B of 31HF20 included test excavations, mapping of the midden zone and beginning a controlled surface collection (20-meter grid) in the northern section of Area B.

Area A at 31HF30 (Figure 2) proved to be peripheral to the Colington component along the river shore, and work here was abandoned after a surface collection, mapping and excavation of ten 2-meter squares and 12 transect tests paralleling the road toward the south of the area. All cultural material from Area A has been cataloged and analyzed, and a draft report prepared as an eventual chapter in the larger Chowanoke site report. The analysis showed this area to have been occupied during the Middle Archaic Morrow Mountain phase (ca. 3500-4500 B.C.), and again in the Deep Creek (8000-300 B.C.) and Mount Pleasant (300 B.C.-A.D. 800) phases of the Woodland period. 80.6 percent of the ceramic specimens reclaimed belonged to the Mount Pleasant series, indicating maximum use during that phase. Colington ceramics represented only 6.6 percent (50 shards) of the site total, widely scattered but with a higher frequency toward the river side of the site.. Ten sherds of Cashie ware, probably representative (Page 11) of trade from the Inner Coastal Plain subregion were also found. Spatial and specimen frequency analysis show Area A to be on the fringe of the Colington occupation zone next to the river.

Area B, at the north end of 31HF30 (Figure 2), provided valuable information on one of the Colington phase residential areas and data on the preceding Mount Pleasant phase which may be useful in determining whether or not this phase is directly ancestral to Colington. Forty-six 2-meter squares were excavated in Area B (Figure 3), seven in the northern section (Figure 4, left) where the 1971 test had been excavated, and the remainder in the southern section (Figure 4, right). Area B had been extensively disturbed in modern times, as we learned from the previous owner of the property. Much of the mussel shell midden had been borrowed for field liming and the area was farmed up to the 1950's, proof of which can be seen in the form of plow scars in the underlying clay in Figure 4, right, an activity which had reduced, or truncated, the remaining context of the area. All material from Area B has been cataloged, and analysis of content of the 22 features (cooking, storage and refuse pits) has been initiated. One human burial, disturbed and fragmented by plowing to the extent that only the right elbow remained in place, may have belonged to either the Mount Pleasant or Colington components, and an intact burial of a small dog (Figure 5, right) dating to the Colington phase has been forwarded to the zooarchaeology consultant for analysis and description. Evidence of the formal burial of dogs in Carolina Algonkian culture adds a confirming humanistic bit of archaeological evidence to the boy and his dog sketched by John White at the village of Pomeioc. The northern section of Area B appears to have supported a primary Mount Pleasant phase residential area, while the southern section produced more evidence of a Colington residential zone, suggested by the dog burial and a cluster of features near the southern end of the excavations. One of these features, a cooking pit (Feature 3), produced a radiocarbon date of A.D. 1640+50 (Beta-8134) from charred hickory nut shells. Taken at face value, the date is only four years prior to the presumed abandonment of Chowanoke; within its 2-sigma range, however, the feature could have been used anytime between A.D. 1540 and 1740. Within this range of time, the possibility exists that Area B was an existing residential zone at the time of Lane's visit in March, 1586. The concentration of Colington ceramics, charred deer antler, deer, turtle and fish bone, mussel shell and miscellaneous artifacts in the 2nd level of Feature 3 is shown in Figure 5, left, and details of the shell-tempered Colington ware (4 or 5 vessels are represented in the pit) and charred antler fragments in Figure 6 upper left and right, respectively. Other Colington phase features have similar subsistence and domestic content, and await analysis. An interesting Mount Pleasant phase feature (Feature 16), a refilled cooking pit, contained an excellent sample of ceramics (Mount Pleasant cord marked and incised), some of which are illustrated in Figure 6, lower right, bone pins (Figure 6, lower left) and sufficient charcoal for a radiocarbon date when the sample is submitted.

Ten 2-meter squares were excavated in Area F (Figure 7), another residential zone of 31HF30. Work here was extremely difficult because it was accomplished in July after a long drought and in extreme heat. Even though patterns in the earth were difficult to read, the area produced excellent evidence of a Colington residential area in the form of features and partial (Page 12) patterns of postmolds. Observed in the field while washing specimens was a difference in the quantity of lithic material (arrow points, production flakes) in Area F, far surpassing that reclaimed from Area B. Whether this represents a difference in household activities, or differing residences for particular specialists will have to await analysis. Specimens from Area F have been cataloged, but not yet analyzed.

Figure 7. Map of Area F, 31HF30 (Brown property). (Page 13)

A surface survey, sketch mapping and collection of Area E and a surface inspection of Area G, 31HF30 (Figure 2) completed the Summer, 1983, activities at the site. Area E appears to have both Mount Pleasant and Colington residential debris and the remnants of a mussel shell midden. Like all of the other areas along the river, it has been disturbed by cottage construction, grading and yard modification activities. Area G proved to be too disturbed by house, trailer and other construction to provide any useful data.

At 3IHF20, four 2-meter squares and 17 transect tests were excavated in Area A (Figure 2) during the summer season. Evidence here indicates a Mount Pleasant and Colington phase residential zone, but yard grading, cottage construction and a boat ramp have either destroyed or covered any remaining evidence. The recovered data and specimens are sufficient, however, to fit that area into the Chowanoke puzzle.

The February-March, 1984 activities in Area B, 31HF20 (Figure 2) included the laying out of a 20-meter surface grid for controlled surface collecting, topographic mapping of the northern section of the area, and excavation of three 2-meter squares. This area is considered the most likely part of the site for the "town center", or cluster of nobility residences, public buildings and areas. It is also the one area of the site which has an intact midden deposit of .3 to .5 meters thickness below the plow zone. A 1980 test there had revealed the intact midden, and the three squares opened this Spring sampled both the shell and non-shell sections of the midden, and exposed seven features and a number of post molds in various levels of the excavations. The midden is primarily Colington from top to bottom, as are the features, all of which overlay and disturbed an earlier Mount Pleasant occupation. This richest area of the site is agricultural land under lease until 1986, and can only be worked in the Fall and Spring when cleared of crops. The material from this work has been washed and is awaiting cataloging; the contents of the features appear to be complex and the existence of postmolds holds promise for eventual recovery of structure outlines.

Based on current evidence, our hypothetical intrasite pattern, or town plan, of Chowanoke proposes a central core of ruler and nobility residences, public buildings, temples and burials near the north end of Area B at 31HF20. This may have been the 30-longhouse cluster observed by Harriot, and the other areas of both 31HF20 and 30 supported commoners' residences on the small erosion peninsulas along the bluff between the Wiccacon River and Swain's Mill Creek. West of the town and river lay the vast extent of agricultural lands that supported the population. Known to be occupied for 800 years of the Colington phase, this largest town of the most politically powerful Carolina Algonkian society contains valuable evidence yet to be recovered. (Page 14)

The funds saved from this year's grant will be utilized to support another six weeks of research at Chowanoke, with further excavations planned in areas E and F at 31HF30, and the wooded shoreline fringe of Area B at 31HF20 which contains some interesting topographic features as well as intact midden deposits. (Page 15)

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Carolina Algonkian Project, All Rights Reserved