The Archaeology of North Carolina

North Carolina Archaeological Time

The Contact Period in North Carolina


The Contact Period in the North-Central Piedmont

The Late Saratown phase (A.D. 1670 - 1710)

The Upper Saratown village, located along Dan River near its confluence with Town Fork Creek is the most extensively excavated Late Saratown village.

At the end of the Middle Saratown phase, about A.D. 1670, the flow of English-made goods reaching the Sara increased dramatically. Sometime after this European diseases struck with devastating force, making many of the excavated villages look more like cemeteries than habitation sites.

Upper Saratown site house
A circular house excavated at the Upper Saratown site. This house measured 23 ft in diameter and was intruded by numerous burial pits (courtesy of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology).

Community patterns changed drastically during the Late Saratown phase. The Upper Saratown site, occupied during the first half of the phase, consisted of a stockaded village occupied by between 200 and 250 persons living in circular houses.

Upper Saratown site map

Excavation plan of the Upper Saratown site, showing pits, postholes, palisades, circular house patterns, and looter's pits (courtesy of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology).

A very different pattern is seen by the close of the 17th-century, when the Sara communities are made up of widely dispersed households. Ceramic evidence suggests that fragments of ethnically diverse tribes may have merged with the Sara in these late sites to form a dispersed refugee community.

Oldtown vessels from Hairston and Upper Saratown sites
Oldtown series pots from the Hairston site (top left) and Upper Saratown (top right and middle and bottom rows).

Pottery from the Late Saratown sites is called the Oldtown series. Smoothed and burnished surfaces are most common, followed by net-impressing. Most of the pots are large cooking or storage jars. Hemispherical and cazuela bowls were also found, often decorated with incised lines and punctations.

The basic subsistence pattern of the previous two centuries continued in the Late Saratown phase, with a balance between wild and domestic food sources. Like other Piedmont Siouan phases, there is no evidence that European animals played a role in the subsistence cycle.

European goods from Upper Saratown site
European trade items found at Upper Saratown: bells (e), spoon (h), circular gorget (j), and brass tubular beads (i); and additional items from the nearby William Kluttz site: parts of flintlock pistol (a-d), buckle and leather belt fragments (f), and brass wire bracelets (g).

Mortuary patterns reflect dramatic changes during the Late Saratown phase. Large amounts of European-made ornaments, particularly glass beads and copper trinkets, accompanied burials, which were placed in the village within and near houses. At first, burials matched earlier forms, but toward the end of the phase a drastic change took place. Cemeteries with numerous shallow burial pits and very few associated artifacts were created away from the villages, perhaps indicating awareness of the contagiousness of European diseases. The fact that most of the dead were subadults may indicate their deaths resulted from a single epidemic.

©2010 UNC-RLA