Research Questions

Analysis of the faunal remains from the Wall and Fredricks sites provided information important to interpreting cultural changes among the Piedmont Indians during the Late Prehistoric and Historic periods. Prior to the faunal analysis a series of research questions, based on information from the ethnohistorical record and from previous archaeological work, was formulated. Although several of these questions later proved to be unsuitable for the particular faunal assemblages found at the Wall and Fredricks sites, they did provide some insights that allowed this researcher to move beyond simple identification and toward an interpretation of faunal exploitation in the context of culture change.

The patterns of exploitation of faunal resources reported for several prehistoric North Carolina and Virginia sites (e.g., Barber and Williams 1978; Coleman 1982; Egloff et al. 1980; Runquist 1979; Waselkov 1977) are similar to the pattern reported by Smith (1974) for Middle Mississippi sites in the Mississippi Valley. In addition to showing a concentration on many of the same species as Smith's groups, the North Carolina and Virginia assemblages reflect a similar pattern of selective, seasonally oriented exploitation. Smith (1974:288) hypothesizes that this cycle of selective, seasonal exploitation of certain animal species groups by Middle Mississippi populations was a procurement strategy that concentrated on those sections of the biotic community that would provide a maximum meat yield for a minimum of expended energy.

For the analysis of the faunal remains from the two Eno River sites, Smith's pattern provides two general research questions:

1. How did the overall pattern of faunal exploitation differ between the two sites?

2. Can the subsistence strategies exhibited at the two sites be explained in terms of maximization of meat yield and minimization of energy expenditure?

In order to answer the general research questions, more specific questions were formulated:

1. What was the relative importance of the various species of animals utilized by the occupants of the two sites?

2. Was faunal exploitation a seasonal activity at the two sites? If so, during what season(s) was each species hunted?

3. What strategies were employed for procuring the exploited species?

4. How selective were the inhabitants of the sites in their exploitation of animal populations?

Other questions formulated prior to the analysis were:

1. Can patterns of butchering of the major species be identified?

2. Is there evidence of hunting species primarily for their hides?

3. How was faunal exploitation related to plant procurement and exploitation?

4. Was the pattern of faunal exploitation altered by the introduction of European technology?

5. Did introductions by Europeans of new plants and animals affect the existing pattern of faunal exploitation?

These questions formed the initial base from which methods were developed to describe and compare the assemblages recovered from the two sites. As the questions indicate, in addition to identifying the patterns of faunal exploitation of the inhabitants of the sites, a major goal of this research was to examine the possible effects of European contact on the use of faunal resources.

It was acknowledged, however, that differences between the Wall and Fredricks site assemblages could not be attributed automatically to European-induced changes in aboriginal subsistence. For example, differences could have resulted from the fact that the faunal remains from the two sites were retrieved from dissimilar archaeological contexts. Over 95% of the bones from the Wall site were found in a large midden associated with the palisade along the periphery of the village, and the remainder from the fill of a single burial pit. Nearly 88% of the bones from the Fredricks site, on the other hand, were obtained from burial fill and the rest from feature fill. All except one of the burial pits from the Fredricks site contained sizeable quantities of bone fragments in the zones of fill above the human skeletal remains. These deposits seem not to be the result of overlying midden having slumped into the pits, since the plowzone in the area around the burial pits contained relatively few artifacts. Although the differing contexts of the bones (sheet midden versus pit fill) are significant, the bones from the fill in the tops of the burial pits at the Fredricks site, and the bones from the midden at the Wall site, can all be considered to represent the disposal of food refuse.

In addition to reflecting different methods of refuse disposal, the different contexts also may not have provided equal conditions for the preservation of bone. Whereas the midden at the Wall site probably represents the activities of many people over a period of several years, the remains from the Fredricks site, especially the remains from the burial pits, probably represent much briefer activities of fewer people. Thus, differences in the assemblages from the two sites may reflect differences in seasons of activity or differences in the behavior of large versus small segments of the representative communities.

Also, because the remains from the Fredricks site were primarily from burial fill, they may represent ceremonial activities, which could have been quite different from every-day subsistence practices. Finally, some of the differences between the two assemblages may relate to the fact that the sample from the Wall site (n=30,257) is much larger than that from the Fredricks site (n=16,393).

Despite these problems, it should be recognized that the assemblages from these two sites offer an excellent opportunity to compare pre-contact and post-contact patterns of exploitation of animal resources in a setting in which variables of the natural environment can, for the most part, be held constant. Further, both sites were exposed to similar factors affecting the preservation of archaeological remains and they were excavated and recorded utilizing the same field techniques. Finally, the remains from the two sites were processed, sampled, and analyzed in an identical manner.

Given the rapidity with which European diseases and social manipulations succeeded in disrupting and ultimately destroying aboriginal culture in piedmont North Carolina, it seemed likely that the faunal remains from the Fredricks site would show at least some evidence of a change in patterns of faunal exploitation from prehistoric to historic times. It was also expected that differences in the remains would reflect increased participation in the deerskin trade, rather than major changes in subsistence patterns, since ethnohistoric accounts (Lefler 1967:182-184; Swanton 1946:256-257) suggest considerable continuity between prehistoric and historic subsistence practices in North Carolina and Virginia. Late prehistoric subsistence was based primarily on corn and bean agriculture and deer hunting, with other plants and animals utilized to a lesser extent.

The seasonal round during late prehistory emphasized deer hunting and food storage in winter, small game capture in spring, fishing and wild and domestic plant food harvesting throughout the summer, and nut gathering and turkey hunting in the fall and early winter (Waselkov 1977:230).

Swanton (1946:256-257) provides an outline of the historic Southeastern subsistence cycle:

Corn, beans, pumpkins, and a few other vegetables were raised, and the fields where these grew usually determined the sites of the towns. This was because they required labor and protection and because most of the crop was stored for later consumption. Dried meat was also stored there, but it was never possible to tell where game animals were to be found, while the location of the field was definite. This, of course meant that the people were generally in or near their villages in summer. . . . Between planting and harvest, they did, however, often get time for a shorter hunt. After harvest they would remain in town until well toward winter to enjoy the produce of their fields and thus place it beyond the reach of human or animal predation. As the harvest was seldom sufficient to last--nor was it expected to last--until another crop came in, the Indians were obliged to seek natural food supplies elsewhere and, since such supplies were not usually concentrated, this meant that the people themselves scattered about in camps where they remained until planting time.

Swanton (1946:257) also mentions that fish were included in the diet during the summer.

In his account of the diet of the Siouan groups of North Carolina, Lawson named as staples many of the species found at late prehistoric sites in the same area (Lefler 1967:182-184; Wilson 1983).

Whereas neither Swanton's nor Lawson's accounts give the kind of information needed to quantify relative dependence upon any particular resource, both indicate that the historic subsistence pattern was similar to the late prehistoric pattern.

In both the late prehistoric and historic patterns, hunting for food was an important activity. It seems likely that if the inhabitants of Occaneechi Town did participate in the deerskin trade, their participation involved (at least initially) only an expansion of the hunting activities which were already of major importance in their adaptive strategy. With increased participation in the deerskin trade over time, it is expected that qualitative (rather than simply quantitative) differences would develop between the hunting activities prior to and after contact. Rather than merely hunting more often or killing a greater number of animals, it is possible that the Indians began to range further from their villages, exploit portions of the environment that previously had been rarely utilized, or hunt species that had not been hunted frequently in the past.

We know that during the period at least from 1650-1676, when they were living on an island in the Roanoke River, the Occaneechi played an important role in the deerskin trade. It is not known, however, whether this participation increased after they moved to the site on the Eno River after around 1680. If the Occaneechi maintained their strong participation in the deerskin trade after their move south (and the abundance of trade goods at the Fredricks site indicates that this is likely), the faunal remains from the Fredricks site might be expected to differ from those of the late prehistoric Wall site by exhibiting some or all of the following characteristics:

1. more opportunistic hunting patterns (e.g., hunting should be less seasonally oriented and there should be more evidence of hunting at all times of the year);

2. less balance between maximization of meat yield and minimization of energy expenditure;

3. evidence of exploitation of portions of the environment that previously had not been heavily utilized;

4. changes in procurement strategies (e.g., Waselkov [1977] suggests that the method of hunting deer may have evolved from stalking to community drives);

5. possibly less specialization and more variability in the faunal assemblage;

6. increased evidence of hunting for fur and hides rather than for meat, such as increased evidence that animals were butchered in the field with only portions of the carcasses being returned to the site; and

7. possible increases in the numbers of tools and features associated with hide-working (such as smudge pits).

The first four expectations would reflect qualitative changes in hunting patterns that might have had the effect of increasing, at least temporarily, the quantity of animals (and skins) obtained. The fifth expectation might have arisen if the Occaneechi had begun to hunt any available fur-bearing animals, including those species that had not been desirable prior to the onset of European trade. The sixth expectation would reflect a marked increase in the number of animals killed beyond those required to fulfill the needs (subsistence and raw material) of the site inhabitants. The final expectation would manifest an increase in the number of tools and features associated with hide-working that might occur with an increase in hide procurement for trade.

Although this list of preliminary expectations is far from exhaustive, it provides a basis on which to compare the two faunal assemblages beyond merely comparing the frequencies of identified species from each site. As work with the assemblages has progressed, the initial list has been reevaluated, further questions added, and others eliminated. Some of these adjustments to the original list of research questions arose when new information was gleaned from the ethnohistorical record. More frequently, the original questions had to be modified because of limitations imposed by the faunal assemblages themselves.