Siouan Archaeology

Archaeologists first became interested in studying the remains of the Piedmont Siouans in the 1930s, when village sites thought to be associated with the Keyauwee, Sara, Saponi, and Occaneechi were subjected to excavations of varying intensity (Coe 1937; Lewis 1951). Though broad in scope, these early efforts were not focused by a structured research design. At most sites, only small areas were tested, and collections were gathered primarily with an eye toward identifying pottery types of the different tribes. As part of this early research, extensive excavations were carried out between 1938 and 1941 at the Wall site on the Eno River near Hillsborough (see Hillsborough locality and archaeological district maps). This site was thought to represent the Occaneechi village visited by Lawson in 1701.

The next archaeological research in the Siouan area was undertaken in the 1940s on the Roanoke River, prior to the inundation of Kerr Reservoir in North Carolina and Virginia (Miller 1962). Under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Salvage Program, extensive excavations were conducted in the reservoir area at the Clarksville site on the east bank of the river opposite "Occaneechi Island," and on the island itself at the Tollifero site. These two sites contained information on the prehistoric Siouan inhabitants of the area, but no evidence was found of the 1670 Occaneechi village visited by Lederer, Needham and Arthur, and Bacon.

In 1972, the Research Laboratories of Anthropology began excavations at the Upper Saratown site on the Dan River in Stokes County, North Carolina (see regional map). These investigations, which lasted for 10 consecutive field seasons, exposed a group of circular houses with associated storage pits and burials, as well as a sequence of village palisades (Ward 1980; J. Wilson 1983). Most of the burials were accompanied by nonutilitarian (ornamental) European trade items. Ethnohistoric records and the recovered trade artifacts suggested that this site was occupied during the late 1600s by the Sara, one of the Piedmont Siouan tribes and neighbors of the Occaneechi.

When combined, these initial efforts to investigate the "Siouan problem" seem substantial. Each project, however, was developed as an end in itself and was not guided by an overall set of research objectives. Consequently, archaeological coverage of the Siouan area was uneven. For example, the upper Dan River valley was extensively investigated, whereas the Haw and Eno drainages to the southeast received relatively little attention. Surveys were opportunistic rather than systematic, and a few larger sites were tested and excavated at the virtual exclusion of many small ones. Despite all of their shortcomings, these previous investigations provided a foundation for more systematic studies of Piedmont Siouan culture.

Although the need to approach Siouan archaeology with a set of specific goals, operationalized by an overall research strategy, was obvious, such a course of study was not formulated until 1983. At that time, staff of the Research Laboratories of Anthropology developed a research design which included a set of questions focused on Siouan culture change and the archaeological correlates of that change.

The archaeological investigations that followed became known as the Siouan Project and focused on the Dan, Eno, and Haw River drainages, heartland of the Piedmont Siouans during the Historic period. Extant ethnohistoric and archaeological information suggested that there was considerable cultural diversity among the groups in these three river systems, reflecting possible differences in ethnicity, microenvironmental adaptation, and intensity of interaction with the English. Although the Siouan tribes seem to have commonly shifted their villages and to have even changed their territories, by 1675 the locations of their settlements were more or less stabilized within the confines of these three drainages. The Sara, Tutelo, and Saponi occupied the territory drained by the Dan and its tributaries; the Eno basin was the homeland of the Eno, Shakori, and Occaneechi (after 1680); and the Haw River area was occupied by the Sissipahaw and possibly others (see regional map).

Since the Siouan Project was concerned with studying changes in aboriginal culture brought about by contact and interaction with English colonists, a primary goal was to locate and identify towns occupied by the various Indian tribes at specific time intervals from the Late Prehistoric through Contact periods. These intervals are: Late Prehistoric (A.D. 1300-1525), Protohistoric (A.D. 1526-1625), Early Contact (A.D. 1626-1675), Middle Contact (A.D. 1676-1710), Late Contact (A.D. 1711-1740), and Euroamerican (A.D. 1741-present). Once sites representing all (or most) intervals were located in each drainage area, it was possible to address more specific questions concerning how the different Piedmont groups adapted within local environments to increasing exposure to European materials, ideas, and institutions.

Some initial questions to be addressed were: What were the Siouan cultures like prior to European contact? After initial European contact, what aspects of culture changed first, and with what relative intensity? As contact became protracted, did the Indians move more toward the adoption of European ways, or more toward making adjustments in their existing cultural patterns to cope with the European presence? What were the short-term and long-term effects of European epidemic diseases? What effects did the deerskin trade have on the native economy, technology, and social organization? How did man-land interactions change through time?