The Archaeology of North Carolina

North Carolina Archaeological Regions

Appalachian Summit region


Archaeology of the Appalachian Summit

The Appalachian Summit in North Carolina presented native peoples with an environment very different from the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. The rugged topography has some of the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains. Higher elevations range between 4,000 and 6,000 feet and are characterized by gaps, ridges, knobs, and knolls. Lower elevations consist of steep slopes, often narrow valleys, and floodplains. The North Carolina Appalachian Summit has been referred to as a "sprawling confusion of mountain ranges." This terrain had a dramatic effect on how the region was used - or not used- by Native Americans.


The Paleo-Indian is the time of the earliest generally accepted arrival of people in the southeastern United States - between 9000 and 10,000 B.C

Paleo-Indian Chronology in North Carolina

Archaeologists working in the Southeast use radiocarbon dating and differences in spear point forms and frequencies to tell time during the Paleo-Indian Period.

Paleo-Indian Settlement and Subsistence in North Carolina

Paleo-Indian settlers in the Southeast found a rapidly changing landscape. Current evidence suggests that many of extinctions of Late Pleistocene megafauna - including the horse, mastadon, and mammoth - were complete by 8500 B.C.

Paleo-Indian in the North Carolina Mountains

Only a few Paleo-Indians sites have been found in the North Carolina mountains, and no buried, stratified sites have been found. Boreal forests comprised of spruce and fir probably persisted in the higher elevations of the southern Appalachian Summit throughout Paleo-Indian times. Now-extinct Pleistocene animals probably persisted latest here.


The Archaic Period (8000 - 1000 B.C.) covers over half of the timespan people have lived in North Carolina. This vast time has been explored by finding well-preserved deposits in rock-shelters and stratified, deeply-buried open sites.

The Archaic Period in the North Carolina Mountains

Although a great deal is known about the Archaic in the Piedmont, much of our reconstruction of Archaic Period chronology, settlement, and subsistence in North Carolina's mountains leans heavily of research in neighboring southeastern Tennessee.


In North Carolina, the Woodland is divided into Early, Middle, and Late periods. Along the coast and through much of the Piedmont, the Late Woodland continues until the Contact period, while in the Appalachian Summit and in the Southern Piedmont, Mississippian and Mississippian-influenced societies developed after A.D. 1000.

Appalachian Summit Woodland Period (1000 B.C. - A.D. 1100)

The Woodland Period in the North Carolina mountains was a time of increasing cultural diversity stimulated by ideas from outside the region. Much of what is known about the Early and Middle Woodland periods in the Appalachian Summit is the result of research in eastern Tennessee.

South Appalachian Mississippian Tradition

The South Appalachian Mississippian tradition, with its complicated-stamped ceramics, stockaded villages, substructure mounds, and agricultural economy appeared abruptly after A.D. 1000 and continued until European contact.


The time of contact between Indians living in North Carolina and Europeans arriving from Spain and England varied considerably across the state. Beginnings of these arrivals do not necessarily herald the beginnings of significant changes in the histories of North Carolina's tribes. However, overall, this was a time of sweeping and often devastating change.

The Contact Period in the Appalachian Summit

The period of direct contact between North Carolina's natives and Europeans starts surprisingly early in the Appalachian Summit, with the 16th century Spanish expeditions to the interior. Later, the 17th century expansions of English trade beyond the Blue Ridge set the stage for the end of Cherokee isolation early in the 1700s.

North Carolina today is the home of the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi River. The robust cultural diversity seen in the archaeological record of the last 12,000 years survives today in the tribal traditions of North Carolina's native peoples.




©2010 UNC-RLA