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)

White Oak phase (A.D. 800 - 1500)

White Oak phase (aka Oak Island phase) of the southern coastal region has many of the same traits as the Colington phase. White Oak phase people lived in longhouses, exploited the estuarine environment, made shell-tempered pottery, and buried their dead is ossuaries. There is evidence that, at least as far south as Onslow County, these people were Algonkian speakers.

Difference between the White Oak/Oak Island ceramics and the Colington series include a lack of incised decorations infrequency of burnishing in the south. Numerous radiocarbon dates place White Oak phase between A.D. 800 and 1500.

Broad Reach site map
Excavation plan of the spoil basin at the Broad Reach site, showing pits, postmolds, and house patterns (courtesy of Mark A. Mathis).

Several White Oak phase longhouses have been excavated. One long house at the Broad Reach site was partitioned with an interior wall.

Late Woodland ossuary at Broad Reach site
Drawing of the Late Woodland ossuary designated Burial 6 at the Broad Reach site (from Mathis 1993:45).

Bundled and randomly mixed remains of many individuals in mass secondary burials in ossuaries are a trait of White Oak phase. Three White Oak phase ossuaries, including one at Broad Reach site, are known to date to approximately the fourteenth century.

Although ossuary burials seldom contain grave goods, one at Broad Reach site contained two shell-tempered White Oak pottery vessels, a small ground stone cup, cut-shell disk beads, clusters of marginella-shell beads, the remains of a small dog, and a turtle carapace. Another small group burial was associated with eight copper beads.

Coastal Algonkian charnal house by John White
A drawing by John White in 1585 of a North Carolina coastal Algonkian charnal house (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Higher status individuals may have received treatment in a well-constructed and maintained facility like that shown in John White's drawing of a coastal Algonkian charnal house. Individuals with lower status may have had different treatment resulting in smaller groups of more fragmented burials.

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