The Archaeology of North Carolina

North Carolina Archaeological Regions

Western Foothills region


Archaeology of the Western Foothills

In North Carolina, the Western Foothills constitutes the upper part of the Yadkin, Catawba, and Broad River drainages as they gather the waters flowing off of the front of the Blue Ridge. After the end of the Archaic, archaeological phases related to both the Appalachian Summit and the Piedmont regions can be detected.


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 Piedmont and North Carolina Mountains

Boreal forests comprised of spruce and fir probably persisted in the higher elevations of the southern Appalachians throughout Paleo-Indian times. When Paleo-Indians first came into the Appalachian foothills winters were harsher and summers cooler than today. For about 1000 years, both people and now-extinct Pleistocene animals co-existed in North Carolina.


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 Piedmont and North Carolina Mountains

Little is known of the Archaic Period from sites in the Western Foothills region compared to the Piedmont, where deeply stratified sites have yielded long sequences of Archaic cultures.


In the Western Foothills, the Appalachian Summit, and the Southern Piedmont, Mississippian and Mississippian-influenced societies developed after A.D. 1000.

Piedmont Tradition Early and Middle Woodland Periods (1000 B.C. - A.D. 800)

During the early part of the Woodland Period, Piedmont Early Woodland and Middle affiliations in the Western Foothills remain murky in the Western Foothills.

The Woodland Period in the Appalachian Summit

While Piedmont Woodland cultures were characterized by continuity and gradual internal change, the Woodland Period of the North Carolina mountains was a time of increasing cultural diversity stimulated by ideas from outside the region.

In the Western Foothills, stronger connections to the Appalachian Summit cultural sequence are observable by the Middle Woodland period Connestee phase..

The Eastern Fringe of the Appalachian Summit

The chronological and cultural relationships between Pisgah and Qualla phases in the Appalachian Summit are addressed by sites in the Catawba River valley, where temporal overlap forces a re-examination of the traditional view of a Pisgah-to-Qualla developmental sequence.


Because the Spanish entradas of the middle and late 16th century came from the south, the Western Foothills are the first point of contact between Indians living in North Carolina and Europeans arriving from Spain. The archaeology of the earliest Spanish contact in in North Carolina is only recently coming to light at such Western Foothills sites such as Berry.

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