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

The Woodland Period on the Coast and Coastal Plain

Late Woodland (A.D. 800 - 1650)

Colington phase (A.D. 800 - 1600)

The distribution of shell-tempered Colington phase ceramics coincides with the coastal Algonkians known to have lived north of Onslow County.

Colington Fabric Impressed vessel from Garbacon Creek site
A Colington Fabric Impressed pot found in an ossuary at the Garbacon Creek site in Carteret County.

Colington series pottery is typically fabric impressed, simple stamped, or plain. Incised decorations are often placed near the vessel rim. Colington pottery is closely affiliated with the Townsend series and Roanoke Simple Stamped ceramics in southwestern Virginia.

Colington phase sites contain a variety of stone, bone, and shell artifacts. Small triangular arrowpoints, polished celts, abraders, and grinders are fashioned from stone. Fishhooks, punches, awls and pins are made from animal bone. Conch shells are used for hoes and picks. Marginella shell beads are common, and freshwater pearls and a copper disk have been reported.

The nature of Colington phase settlements over 800 years that comprise the phase is difficult to characterize. Maize farming probably became important sometime after A.D. 1100 and larger populations with complex societies developed after A.D. 1200 or later. By the time of earliest European contact, the Algonkians had grown into ranked societies or chiefdoms, each with a hereditary ruler who lived at the capital village of his territory.

The average Algonkian town at the end of the sixteenth century may have contained twelve to eighteen longhouses, with a population of roughly 120 to 200 people. The towns were located along major streams, sounds, and estuaries where subsistence tasks, including farming, hunting, gathering, fishing, and shellfish collecting were carried out.

Pomeiooc village by John White
A drawing by John White in 1585 of the North Carolina coastal Algonkian village of Pomeiooc (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Two traits stand out in defining these coastal Algonkians - longhouses and the practice of burying large numbers of people in mass graves or ossuaries after exposure of the dead in a charnal house.

There are excellent descriptions and drawings of North Carolina Algonkian communities in the northern coastal region. These were provided by English explorers between A.D. 1584 and 1587.

The village of Pomeiock (Pomeiooc), for instance, was located on the mainland side of Pamlico Sound next to Lake Mattamuskeet. This village consisted of a tight cluster of longhouses in a concentric circle within a stockade surrounding a central plaza.

Secotan village by John White
A drawing by John White in 1585 of the North Carolina coastal Algonkian village of Secotan (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

In contrast, the village of Secoton was located on the bank of the Pamlico River. This village had an open arrangement of longhouses. Individuals are depicted in various activities, including praying, dancing, and eating. Three cornfields with crops in various stages of maturity are shown.

A great deal of archaeology still needs to be done on Colington phase villages to integrate the historic records and archaeological record.

©2010 UNC-RLA