Socio-Political Implications

During the prehistoric and early historic times, mortuary beliefs and practices seem to have been shared by an entire village, which was composed of closely related unilineal-descent groups. This pattern is reflected in the scattered placement of burials within villages, such as at the Wall site and Upper Saratown. During this time, the village itself was, in effect, a "cemetery." The lack of spatial segregation of burials at these villages suggests an egalitarian social structure and may also indicate that village membership was more important than clan or lineage affiliation (cf. Tainter 1978; Bartell 1982). These earlier villages probably represent exogamous residential components of lineal tribes as defined by Service (1962:128-133).

From the ethnohistoric records, it is obvious that by 1700 disease and warfare had decimated the Indian population of the Piedmont. Villages had fragmented and remnants of groups once linguistically and politically distinct were forced to join together in an effort to cope with the constant pressures of colonial expansion and the perpetual hostilities from northern neighbors (cf. Dobyns 1983). During this time, the Keyauwee, Shakori, Saponi, and Tutelo combined with the Occaneechi to resist Iroquois raids. In fact, Lawson turned south of the Occaneechi trail because of the threat of an Iroquois attack in Virginia (Lefler 1967:61).

This process of decimation, fragmentation, and recombination of village groups necessitated structural changes in all components of Siouan culture. Large unilineal descent groups (lineages or clans) and sodalities probably lost much of their social significance. The ceremonial and ritual behavior that sanctioned these groups also were lost or drastically modified. In short, villages and tribes that had been unified and held together by a deep traditional network of kinship and shared ideology probably vanished as early as 1670. In their places were villages comprised of groups consolidated for expedience rather than on the bases of kinship and a shared system of beliefs. Within these villages, social segments were defined by ethnic and linguistic affiliation, not by unilineal kinship ties. Kindred-like social groups (cf. Speck 1935) formed the primary units of production and consumption, and mortuary ritual and ceremonial beliefs were held in common within these groups.

The cemetery at the Fredricks site may have resulted from the mortuary practices of one of these social units, in which individuals were differentiated by age and sex as well as personal achievement. Children were held in high esteem, and it was possible for adults to achieve positions of high status. By the late 1600s, individuals may have risen to positions of prominence by developing special relationships with White traders.

Traditionally, tribes are led by "big men" who achieve a high status position by being successful warriors, magicians, and hunters. In short, they are individuals who excel in tribal society (Sahlins 1968:22). Since external political and economic dealings were left to the big men, those individuals who excelled in trade and other dealings with the colonists probably gained added respect, and through their generosity, a degree of social control that exceeded what they would have obtained within the traditional social structure. Based on the Fredricks site data, these big men were young adult males who probably replaced the more elder leaders who had been most influential prior to European contact.

Given the massive depopulation of the Piedmont over a short period of time, acculturation, in the traditional uses of that term (Beals 1962; Spicer 1961), did not take place. Certainly the social and ideological changes postulated above should not be seen simply as a borrowing of colonial customs. They were, instead, internal systemic adjustments made in an effort to adapt to and cope with a very destabilizing cultural environment. Obviously, the Piedmont Indians were borrowing material culture from the colonists. But as others have pointed out (e.g., Seehan 1980:135; Merrell 1987:4), the Indians were capable of absorbing great quantities of European trade goods without losing the integrity of their native culture. On this point, it is interesting to note Service's comments on the evolution of composite tribes:

One salient consequence of civilization on a great many tribes has been depopulation through foreign disease, most usually carried by Europeans; another is disturbance of the resource base by such things as economic exploitation and alienation of native lands or outright removal; still another but frequently overemphasized in studies of changes in social organization, is acculturation--direct borrowing from the invaders. (Service 1962:136, emphasis added)

These comments could not be more applicable had they been directed specifically at the Piedmont Siouans. They suggest that the arrangement of burials in a cemetery at the Fredricks site does not mean that, by the end of the seventeenth century, the Occaneechis were burying their dead like the colonists. To the contrary, this shift in mortuary behavior may be interpreted as a consequence of internal changes in Siouan social organization, changes expected in a society evolving from a lineal to a composite tribe. Perhaps if the bodies had been extended instead of flexed, or interred in coffins, an emulation of colonial mortuary practices might be postulated (cf. Axtell 1981:123-124). Such was not the case, however.

The rectangular shapes and straight walls of most of the burial pits at the Fredricks site do not represent mimicking of colonial burials; rather they were the result of the use of metal tools. Sharp corners and straight sides are a more likely consequence of the use of iron hoes and spades than of wood or stone implements. Though many of the grave goods from the Fredricks site burials are European in origin, almost all have aboriginal counterparts. Their incorporation in the mortuary complex seems to reflect only replacement of aboriginal items and not changes in native ritual and ideology.

In short, the mortuary evidence suggests that Siouan culture change should not be viewed as an increasing accommodation to European ways. Rather, these changes are better interpreted as adaptive responses within societies that remained, in many respects, resistant to change and that attempted to maintain their traditional cultural systems in the face of devastating pressures.