The Archaeology of North Carolina

North Carolina Archaeological Time

The Woodland and Mississippian Periods in North Carolina

Coastal Woodland || Piedmont Tradition Early/Middle Woodland   ||  Piedmont Tradition Late Woodland   ||  Southern Piedmont Late Woodland  ||  Appalachian Summit Woodland   ||  South Appalachian Mississippian

Southern Piedmont Late Woodland

Pee Dee Culture (A.D. 1000 - 1500)

The Town Creek site, on the Little River in Montgomery County is the most important Pee Dee site. Once thought to be a movement of people that arrived in the Piedmont with an entirely new way of life, Pee Dee is now viewed as a regional center of South Appalachian Mississippian that interacted and evolved with other regional centers scattered from the Coastal Plain of Georgia and South Carolina to the western North Carolina mountains.

The Town Creek site is located on the Little River near its confluence with Town Fork Creek in Montgomery County. Excavations at Town Creek began in 1937 and continued off and on for the next fifty years. Designated a state historic site in 1955, Town Creek remains today North Carolina's only state historic site dedicated to its native population.

Town Creek site 1937
A view of the Frutchey mound at Town Creek in 1937, just prior to the start of excavation (Photo by Coe 1937, from Coe 1995:62).

The mound at Town Creek faced a large plaza where public and ceremonial activities took place. Several structures, including some that may have served as burial or mortuary houses, were constructed around the edge of the plaza.

Town Creek site's Frutchey mound excavation 1937
Troweling the top of subsoil at the base of the Frutchey mound, inside the rectangular pre-mound earthlodge. The wall-post holes and parallel entryway trenches have been excavated (Photo by Coe 1937; from Coe 1995:71).

The mound was constructed over an early rectangular structure described as an earth lodge. After this structure collapsed it was covered with a low earthen mound that served as a platform upon which a temple was erected. After this structure burned a thick layer of soil was added to enlarge and heighten the mound and another temple was built.

Artist's conception of the Pee Dee village at Town Creek site
An artist's conception of the Pee Dee village at Town Creek (drawn by Barton Wright, 1951) (from Coe 1995:98).

The mound, plaza, and habitation zone were enclosed by a stockade made of closely set posts. There were five episodes of stockade building.

Town Creek site artifacts
Carved shell gorget (a), clay pipe (b), carved stone face (c), copper-coated wooden earspool (d), ground stone earspools (e-f), and copper ax (g) found at the Town Creek site.

Although not visible like the mound, a large number of burials were present at Town Creek. Several were clustered in mortuary areas. Most were loosely flexed and placed in simple pits. A few were fully extended or reburied as bone bundles. Several infants and small children were tightly wrapped and buried in large pottery vessels - called burial urns. A few of the Pee Dee burials were richly adorned with a variety of exotic artifacts made from copper and shell. Copper artifacts include copper-covered wooden ear spools and rattles, pendants, sheets of copper, and a copper axe. Beads, gorgets and pins were fashioned from conch shell.

Pee Dee vessels from Town Creek site
Small Pee Dee pots from Town Creek (top and middle rows) and a Pee Dee Complicated Stamped vessel from the Leak site (bottom).

There are strong similarities between Pee Dee pottery and pottery from other South Appalachian Mississippian sites in South Carolina and Georgia. The ceramics most similar to Town Creek pottery came from the Irene site near Savannah, Georgia.

Earlier pottery at Town Creek is more often hemispherical bowls and jars with complicated stamped surfaces. The most popular early designs are a series of concentric circles, followed by filfot cross designs. The filot cross later replaced concentric circles as the more popular surface finish. Plain and burnished surface treatments increased and cazuela bowls became more popular. Another treatment, textile wrapping, appears late and is unique to Pee Dee pottery.

Complicated-stamped design motifs - Town Creek site
Etowah (a), Savannah (b-d), Irene (e-h), and Pisgah and Early Lamar (i-k) design motifs found on complicated-stamped pottery from Town Creek (drawings based on Reid 1967:11, 13).

Pee Dee Culture at Town Creek did not suddenly appear but evolved over a period at least 200 years. The fourteenth century saw the decline of many South Appalachian centers like Irene and Town Creek. As temple mounds were abandoned, burial practices changed to reflect a more egalitarian society. Focusing on outlying villages without mounds clarifies Pee Dee Culture before and after Town Creek.

Teal phase (ca. A.D. 1000 - 1200)

Early Pee Dee culture began between A.D. 980 and 1160. Pee Dee complicated stamped pottery was accompanied by fine-cordmarked and simple stamped types called Savannah Creek. Subsistence was based on hunting, fishing, and farming. Little is known of domestic architecture, although some ceremonial structures and burials have been found.

Town Creek phase (A.D. 1200 - 1400)

This is the time when the mound was constructed at Town Creek and the site became the ritual and ceremonial center of the Pee Dee drainage. A substantial residential population was present at the site. Although maize agriculture was a mainstay, hunting, fishing, and gathering remained important. Except for the elaboration of ritual activities, Pee Dee culture continued much as before.

Leak phase (ca. A.D. 1400 - 1500)

As Town Creek's importance began to wane around A.D. 1400, the Leak site grew in size and importance. The popularity of complicated stamped, plain, and textile wrapped surfaces and cazuela forms increased. Oval houses were constructed. Subsistence practices changed little.

©2010 UNC-RLA