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 in the Piedmont

The Piedmont Village Tradition

Cultures throughout most of the Piedmont steadily evolved along an unbroken continuum from about A.D. 1000 until the time of first contacts with Europeans. Subsistence seems to have remained evenly balanced between crop production and wild plant and animal resources. Social distinctions were based primarily on age and sex. Egalitarian Woodland societies were woven together by kinship and leadership roles were achieved rather than ascribed.

The Late Woodland Period (A.D. 800 - 1600)

Even though there were no sharp breaks or glaring innovations with the beginning of the Late Woodland period in Piedmont North Carolina, major cultural changes took place between A.D. 1100 and 1600 as regional manifestations of the Piedmont Village Tradition emerged. This was a time of population consolidation and the beginning of intertribal conflicts. In much, but not all, of the Piedmont, larger villages surrounded by stockades protected inhabitants. This was probably the result of increased agricultural production and efficiency, and competition for good agricultural lands.

Establishing linkages between archaeological complexes and specific tribal groups is often difficult and sometimes impossible. There is, however, a marked increase in the diversity of the archaeological record throughout the Piedmont during the latter half of the Late Woodland period. Much of that diversity no doubt coincides with ethnic and tribal differences taking shape at this time. The Dan River and Saratown phases probably represent people ancestral to the Sara Indians. Along the Eno River, Hillsboro phase may be related to the Eno, Shakori, and Occaneechi tribes. Further south, in the Haw River, the Haw River, Hillsboro, and Mitchum phases are possibly linked to the Sissipahaw Indians. The Gaston phase may represent the Occaneechis, Tutelos, and Saponis.

The southern Piedmont saw the arrival of the Pee Dee culture - mound builders with a highly stratified and politically complex society. Pee Dee culture shares more traits with the Pisgah phase of Appalachian Summit than the Siouan cultures of the Piedmont. Both were part of the South Appalachian Mississippian cultural tradition.

Uwharrie phase (A.D. 800 - 1200)

The Uwharrie phase, with sites throughout central North Carolina, is the "mother" of all succeeding phases of the Piedmont Village Tradition.

Haw River phase (A.D. 1000 - 1400)

Emerging from a base typologically similar to the Uwharrie phase, Haw River phase sites of the north central Piedmont transition from small, scattered settlements to compact, palisaded villages.

Dan River phase (A.D. 1000 - 1450)

In the upper Dan River drainage of the northern Piedmont, the Dan River phase emerged at the same time as the Haw River phase. A much larger population occupied the Dan River valley during the Late Woodland period than the Eno and Haw River drainages.

Donnaha phase (A.D. 1000 - 1450)

The Donnaha site In the Great Bend area of the Yadkin River Valley is a large, rich site occupied throughout most of the Late Woodland period. Related to the Dan River phase, Yadkin River valley Late Woodland sites are found on good agricultural soils westward to the Blue Ridge, where a blending of Late Woodland traditions from both the mountains and the Piedmont is found.

Hillsboro phase (A.D. 1400 - 1600)

Hillsboro phase sites in the north central Piedmont follow the Haw River phase, with ceramic differences suggesting a movement a people from outside the area.

Early Saratown phase (A.D. 1450 - 1600)

Early Saratown sites in the northern Piedmont follow the Dan River phase, showing signs of a stable population joined in fewer but larger villages.

Piedmont Village Tradition worked bone
Bone tools and ornaments from Dan River and Hillsboro phase sites: beamers (a-b), barrel-shaped beads (c), awls (d-e), drilled turkey wing-phalanx beads (f), antler pin (g), and tubular beads (h).
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