The Archaeology of North Carolina

North Carolina Archaeological Regions

Southern Coast region


Archaeology of the Southern Coast

The southern coast is characterized by barrier islands lying close to the shoreline, and is broken by the narrow mouths of the Newport, White Oak, Cape Fear, and New Rivers. The southern coast provided far less access to estuarine resources than the northern coast.


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.

Coastal Paleo-Indian

Paleo-Indian sites near the coast 10,000 to 12,000 years ago lie submerged well-offshore and the few Paleo-Indian sites found near today's coast represent adaption to what was then the central Coastal Plain. What is now the Coast probably had deciduous forests dominated by beech and hickory.


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.

Archaic of the North Carolina Coast

Numerous Archaic sites have been discovered on the North Carolina coast and Coastal Plain. Unlike the Piedmont, where Archaic sites with stratified contexts have been excavated, the coastal Archaic is known primarily from surface collections. Diagnostic spear point styles recognized in the Piedmont are duplicated in the artifact collections from the coast.


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.

The Woodland Period on the Coast and Coastal Plain (1000 B.C. - A.D. 1650)

The Woodland period in the coastal regions of North Carolina was largely marked by continuity, and the changes that occurred were typically gradual in nature.

Differences between Middle Woodland and Late Woodland cultural patterns are sharp, but then from A.D. 800 until the first contacts with Europeans was again a period of stability and continuity.


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 along the North Carolina Coast

The first settlements in North Carolina were made along the coast by the English. Sir Walter Raleigh's failed attempts to establish a colony in the northern coastal region between 1584 and 1590 represents the beginning of English colonization in the New World. Around 1650, Virginia settlers began to push southward along the coast, starting with the Albemarle region. Land-grabbing and an illegal trade in Indian slaves set the stage for subsequent conflicts with the tribes of the coast and coastal plain.

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