Archaeological Background

Having presented ethnohistoric descriptions of the mortuary rituals of the Siouans and other groups along the Eastern Seaboard, it is now appropriate to turn to the archaeological record to isolate correlates of the ethnohistoric accounts. First, archaeological sites that are known to have been occupied by Siouan groups during the Late Prehistoric and early Historic periods will be discussed. Then archaeological data from groups known to have interacted with the Siouans during the Historic period will be presented. These latter data are presented because it is believed that there are closer similarities between the Occaneechi burials at the Fredricks site and those of groups such as the Susquehannock and Delaware than there are between the prehistoric and historic Siouan mortuary patterns.

The Wall site, located immediately east of the Fredricks site, dates to the Protohistoric period. Although roughly 16,000 ft2 have been excavated, only eight burials have been identified. All the burials were inside or in the vicinity of houses. The individuals were flexed, and all but one were placed in ovoid shaft-and-chamber pits with their heads usually positioned to the southeast. Grave goods consisted entirely of aboriginal artifacts. Decorative items such as shell beads and gorgets were found along with aboriginal pots and smoking pipes. The latter were associated with adults, whereas the former were found with children (Dickens et al. 1987).

At the Clarksville site, located near Occaneechi Island and dating to the Late Prehistoric period, burials were randomly dispersed across the excavation area. Although these burials probably also were in the vicinity of houses, no such structures were identified by the excavators (Miller 1962). The overall inventory of grave goods at the Clarksville site was very similar to that from the Wall site.

During the summer of 1983, excavations at the Mitchum site on Haw River, an historic village site, uncovered an oval house structure and a single shaft-and-chamber burial lying within the floor area of the house. Grave goods were represented by a necklace of small glass trade beads and two copper ear ornaments (Dickens et al. 1987).

At the Madison site, located in Rockingham County, North Carolina, 120 burials were removed from an area of approximately 14,000 ft2. Unfortunately, most of these burials were taken out by pot-hunters. However, some records of the excavations were kept. This site probably dates to c. 1660-1680 and was occupied at about the same time as Upper Saratown, discussed below. Twelve of the burials were arranged in a semi-circle around a cluster of refuse pits, and the remaining burials radiated out from the primary group in a more or less random fashion. The burials were flexed and all but one was oriented in an eastward direction. European trade goods, found in 70% of the graves, consisted mostly of glass beads and brass ornaments (Gravely 1969:11). In general, this pattern is very similar to that described below at Upper Saratown. Postholes and house patterns among the burials probably were present but were not observed by the excavators.

At Upper Saratown, occupied during the latter half of the seventeenth century, an area similar in size to that of the Wall and Madison sites has been excavated and 111 burials identified. All these interments were found either inside or in the vicinity of house structures. Navey (1982:152) notes that, "It can be stated with certainty only that the preferred burial locations were within the village and in the proximity of houses." Only 12% of the burials were in shaft-and-chamber pits. The most popular pit type was ovoid to rectangular in shape and usually had shelves for a burial covering near the top of the pit. The bodies were flexed and the heads generally oriented in an easterly direction (Navey 1982:158-168). The most common grave goods were glass beads and brass ornaments, followed by aboriginal shell ornaments (Navey 1982:170).

At the Wall, Madison, and Upper Saratown sites, areas almost equal in size have been excavated. A like number of burials were found at the latter two sites, 120 at Madison Cemetery and 111 at Upper Saratown, whereas only eight were found at the Wall site. A comparison of the Wall site and Upper Saratown shows that a similar number of houses was constructed at both sites, although there is more evidence for rebuilding and overlapping houses at Upper Saratown. That Upper Saratown was occupied somewhat longer is also suggested by a denser concentration of artifacts, but there is no reason to suspect that it was a viable community for more than 50 years. In all likelihood, the Wall site was occupied for about 20 years, given the multiple palisade alignments and a rich midden deposit around the periphery of the village. The difference in numbers of burials between the two sites, therefore, is much too large to be dismissed as the result of sampling error or different durations of occupation. It is rather a clear indication of the devastating impact of European diseases on the aboriginal populations, and that this is one area where the accounts of the early traders and explorers were not exaggerated (e.g., Lefler 1967:232).

In summary, there seems to be a definite pattern in the dimensions of Siouan mortuary behavior during the Late Prehistoric and Historic periods. During the Late Prehistoric period there was a preference for ovoid shaft-and-chamber burial pits. Although this type of pit was continued into the early Historic period, its popularity diminished. Grave goods consisted of aboriginal utilitarian and decorative artifacts with shell ornaments being most popular. During the middle seventeenth century, the most popular type of grave was ovoid to rectangular in shape and usually had shelves to support a covering. Aboriginal decorative artifacts were replaced by glass beads and brass or copper ornaments. Aboriginal utilitarian artifacts, however, were still popular (Wilson 1984).

During the Late Prehistoric and early Historic periods, bodies were flexed and the heads usually pointed in an easterly direction. During both periods, most burials were randomly distributed in the villages, although some may have been associated with houses. With the possible exception of the Madison site, graves were not spatially segregated into clusters or aligned with one another.

An early archaeological account that describes a cemetery complex is the Munsee Cemetery report (Heye and Pepper 1915). The Munsee site, located in southern New Jersey, consists of a circular palisaded village and cemetery occupied by members of the Delaware tribe during the middle seventeenth century. Although the cemetery was excavated during the summer of 1914 and thus there are some problems in interpreting the remains because of the relatively poor archaeological field methods at that time, it is clear that the cemetery contained burials that were aligned with one another along a northwest-southeast axis. Several of the pits also contained upper zones of refuse, and in some instances deer bones and charcoal were intermingled with the human skeletal material. Heye and Pepper (1915:22) interpreted the animal remains as representing refuse from a feast. The clearest evidence of feasting activity was found in a child's burial.

In association with this burial there were evidences of a feast, for over the body there was a broad discolored area in which were much charcoal and many cracked animal bones, mostly those of deer. Other burials showed evidences of accompanying feast-pits, but none was so strongly marked as this. (Heye and Pepper 1915:28)

Pewter pipes and artifact bundles were also reported associated with the burials. "Resting against the left shoulder was a deposit of objects consisting of two flints and fragments of a steel, two circular mirrors with metal backs, a clay pipe of European manufacture, and a pewter pipe" (Heye and Pepper 1915:53). Several other pewter pipes were also found, and these were determined to have been imports from Iroquois groups to the west and north (Heye and Pepper 1915:53). In addition to the pipes, brass kettles and bracelets, metal spoons, glass and shell beads, and fragments of European fabric were found in the graves. In summary, the inventory of grave offerings at the Munsee site, though larger than that of the Fredricks site, is quite similar in overall content.

Several Susquehannock sites exhibit marked similarities, through time, to the Siouan sites. The Ibaugh site, located near Washington Boro in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a Susquehannock cemetery and village that dates between 1600 and 1625, a time when the Susquehannock were first becoming intensively involved in the fur trade. The population of the Ibaugh site is estimated to have been around 1,000 (Whitthoft et al. 1959:119). Here, the grave depths averaged 31 inches and appeared to have been dug with hoes. The pits were oval in outline with flat bottoms and sloping sides. In most cases, the pits were larger than necessary to accommodate the burial (Whitthoft et al. 1959:105).

At the Ibaugh site, all the bodies except infants were flexed. Most were loosely flexed; only two were tightly flexed. The dominant orientation of the burials was west or southwest, with the heads oriented westward. In a single incident of secondary burial, two bundled individuals had been placed in the same pit with a flexed skeleton. Whitthoft et al. (1959:109) states that

it seems quite obvious that the secondary nature of this interment was not the result of any traditional burial practice, but that it represents the remains of two persons who had died away from home, perhaps in warfare or in a hunting accident. The bones had been found in the woods at a somewhat later date and had then been carried home and placed in the first available grave, an open one which had just received a fresh corpse.

Most of the burials contained both aboriginal artifacts and Euroamerican trade goods. Large quantities of glass beads were found in clusters as if sewn on clothing. Small white and blue glass "seed" beads were most common, with only a few tubular shell "wampum" beads being present. The graves of children and infants contained more beads than those of adults. Iron artifacts included knives, axes, hoes, scissors, and a few nails. Also recovered were pipes, kettles, bracelets, and tubular beads made from glass. Artifacts sewn on clothing were discoidal shell beads, conch columella beads, shale beads, perforated elk and bear tusks, brass cones and bells, and a sheet brass breast ornament. Most of the burials also contained aboriginal ceramic vessels that contained the remains of food offerings (Whitthoft et al. 1959:110-115).

The Strickler site, also located near Washington Boro, is a large palisaded Susquehannock village with at least three associated cemeteries. It is estimated that the village was occupied between 1650 and 1675 (Futer 1959:147) or between 1645 and 1665 (Kent 1984:367). It may have contained as many as 3,000 inhabitants (Kent 1984:363). Burials at the Strickler site averaged 25 inches deep below the subsoil surface. As with those at the Ibaugh site, the pits were bathtub shaped and had an average horizontal measurement of 65 inches by 30 inches. Most skeletons were flexed either on their right or left sides; 23% were extended (Kent 1984:365). A majority of the bodies were oriented northwest-southeast, with the heads to the northwest (Futer 1959:136).

Most of the Strickler burials were accompanied by brass kettles, gun parts, metal or kaolin pipes, and glass beads, in addition to aboriginal clay pots and pipes. Four pewter pipes were recovered, and fragments of trade cloth and blankets were found preserved by contact with the metal artifacts. The inventory also included several flintlock and dog-lock muskets, axes, hoes, knives, swords, a single pistol, and over 200 musket balls. Other artifacts included hawkbells, Jews harps, and buckles (Futer 1959:137-140). In short, "Grave offerings at Strickler consist of virtually every kind of material item made by, or which came into the hands of, the Susquehannocks" (Kent 1984:366).

The final site to be occupied by the Susquehannock was Conestoga Town, located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This village, established after the 1675 defeat of the Susquehannocks by the Iroquois, is believed to have been occupied between 1690 and 1730 (Kent 1984:386). Excavations in 1972 revealed striking differences between this site and earlier Susquehannock villages. Instead of long houses, the houses were more cabin-like, and the space between houses was greatly increased over earlier villages. The small settlement, confined to an area less than 90,000 ft2, is estimated to have been occupied by only 100 to 200 individuals (Kent 1984:282-283).

Conestoga Town contained five distinct clusters of burials, which seem to have been spatially related to different groups of houses. It is known that different ethnic groups occupied the site at the same time (Susquehannocks, Seneca, and possibly others), and these distinctions may be reflected in the burial clusters. Most of the burials were extended (supine position) instead of being flexed, and each grave pit was dug just large enough for the body. A few apparently were coffin burials. Most of the skeletons had their heads oriented to the west-northwest; however, a few graves were oriented toward the southwest, southeast, east, and northeast, with greater variability than at earlier Susquehannock cemeteries (Kent 1984:387).

All the burials at Conestoga Town that had not been looted contained some form of grave goods, ranging from a few beads or a knife to thousands of glass beads accompanied by a variety of other trade artifacts. "Generally it was the adolescents who had the largest quantities of objects interred with them" (Kent 1984:387). The most common grave associations were beads, iron knives, and brass kettles, the latter often serving as repositories for artifact caches. Wooden spoons and fragments of split-cane baskets were sometimes found with the kettles. The overwhelming majority of burial artifacts were of European origin, and the list includes almost every imaginable item from beads and buttons to guns and bullets (Kent 1984:389).

The various kinds of objects and their quantities found buried with the dead at Conestoga Town are indicative of the retention of certain old native beliefs, together with a cumbersome admixture of ideas borrowed from Christianity. In our opinion the kinds of quantities of objects do not reflect anything about individual status or economic conditions of the community. (Kent 1984:390)

The earliest historic Siouan villages, such as Upper Saratown, do not compare with Susquehannock towns such as Ibaugh. The latter are at least 10 times as large and have spatially distinct cemetery areas, whereas the former are relatively small and have burials distributed throughout the village. However, in both cases the vast majority of the bodies are loosely flexed and oriented in specific directions; the Siouans usually to the east, and the Susquehannocks usually to the west. There are also similarities in the kinds of European artifacts used as burial furniture. Although non-utilitarian goods such as beads are predominant at Upper Saratown and the Ibaugh site, axes, hoes, and other utilitarian objects are also found with the burials at both sites. The Ibaugh site, however, appears to have produced a greater variety of iron and brass artifacts than Upper Saratown.

There are no known parallels in the Siouan area to the Strickler site. Most of the Siouans never coalesced into a single village or group of villages that match the Strickler site in size and complexity. It was, however, during the span of occupation of the Strickler site that most of the cultural interaction took place between the Susquehannocks and the Siouans. And the original home of the Occaneechis on Occaneechi Island may have been in the process of becoming like Strickler when it was raided by Bacon in 1676. Three "forts" were occupied on the island when Bacon attacked. Immediately before Bacon's attack, the Occaneechi King, Posseclay, started

massing his Indians and also the Hayhelocks, and Manakins and Annalectons, man all his forts and lined the other side of the river thick with men so that wee could neither well attack nor depart the Island. (Billings 1975:268)

As the militia tried to stop the Indians from entering the fort, King Posseclay attempted to appease Bacon by blaming the Manakins and Annalectons who were "too numerous for him [the king] to control" (Billings 1975:268).

From this account, it would seem that the Occaneechis and their allies who occupied Occaneechi Island in 1676 were somewhat more numerous than the archaeological and ethnohistoric records indicate for other Siouan villages and in some ways more comparable to the Strickler site. Unfortunately, Occaneechi Island is now inundated, and archaeological research on the island prior to its flooding failed to locate the village and forts of the Occaneechis (Miller 1962).

There are numerous similarities and a few differences between the Fredricks site as it is currently known and Conestoga Town. As for the differences, most of the burials at Conestoga Town were extended and a few were in coffins, perhaps reflecting Christian influence. Also, burial orientation was variable. In contrast, the burials at the Fredricks site were all flexed and oriented in the same direction. The two sites are similar in the presence of a wide range of Euroamerican trade artifacts used as grave offerings and in the clustering of burials into small cemeteries. The two sites are also similar in the fact that subadults received a great deal of attention at the time of burial. In terms of overall village size, the two sites seem to be very similar, and both villages included a mix of once distinct tribal groupings. It is believed that the mixed ethnic composition at both sites is the reason for the relatively small and distinct burial clusters.