Siouan Settlement Patterns

From the standpoint of the ethnohistoric record, the sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century Carolina Piedmont is virtually terra incognita. De Soto and Pardo may have traveled through the western fringes of the region, but the relatively small tribes nestled along the easterly flowing streams held little interest for the treasure-seeking Spanish. Consequently, it is necessary to rely almost entirely on the archaeological record to reconstruct populations and to investigate any changes that may have occurred as a result of the Spanish entradas and early English settlements.

In the Haw and Eno river drainages, the Haw River and Hillsboro phases define the period between A.D. 1000 and 1600. The Hillsboro phase, dating between A.D. 1400 and 1600, brackets the period when the first contacts should have been made between Indians and Europeans. In the Dan River drainage, the period between A.D. 1000 and 1450 is defined by the Dan River phase, whereas the Early Saratown phase encompasses the Early Contact period between A.D. 1450 and 1620.

Between A.D. 1540 and 1620, the Spanish troops of de Soto and Pardo not only marched along the western margin of the Piedmont, they also established settlements on the South Carolina coast. Toward the end of this period, English settlers attempted to form a colony on Roanoke Island on the North Carolina coast and managed to carve a precarious toe-hold on the James River in Virginia.

If "virgin soil" epidemics resulted from these early contacts, evidence of depopulation and settlement instability should surface during the latter part of the Hillsboro and Early Saratown phases. Numbers of settlements and perhaps settlement sizes should decrease in a dramatic manner from those dating to the latter part of the Haw River and Dan River phases. Furthermore, villages should contain fewer and perhaps less permanent structures, and an increase in mortality rates should be reflected by an increase in numbers of burials and perhaps multiple or mass burials.

Survey data pertaining to the pre-contact Haw River phase indicate a preponderance of small dispersed settlements characterized by low artifact outputs and few features. Apparently households were loosely grouped along the flanks of secondary streams in a hamlet-like fashion. The Mitchum site, located on the Haw River, is an exception to this pattern. Here a more compact and long-term occupation is indicated by high artifact densities and midden accumulation (Davis and Ward 1991).

The pre-contact Dan River phase in the upper Dan River drainage reveals a much different pattern of settlement. Here larger, more compact villages are the norm. During the latter part of the Dan River phase, most sites appear to be between one and two acres in size and probably contained at least 15-20 households within their palisades. Pit features, including burials, are associated with the structures. Fortifications and corresponding settlement nucleation may have resulted from an intensification of maize agriculture and competition for good crop land, as well as from outside threats from northern Iroquois groups (Davis and Ward 1991).

The Hillsboro phase in the Haw and Eno drainages sees the continuation of the basic settlement and community patterns observed during the preceding Haw River phase. Like the earlier Mitchum site, the Wall site located on the Eno River reflects a compact palisaded village of approximately 1.25 acres with several circular houses and an extensive midden (see excavation plan). More dispersed settlements also occur along the tributary streams (Davis and Ward 1991). Although Hillsboro phase sites are fewer in number, artifact and pit feature densities increase markedly over those of the earlier Haw River phase settlements. This increased occupation intensity is particularly noticeable during the last half of the Hillsboro phase, the time when early European contact would have been taking place (Davis and Ward 1991).

Settlement changes are also evident on the Dan River during the Early Saratown phase, dating between A.D. 1450 and 1620. Villages were moved to near the confluences of the Dan and its major tributaries, and site sizes increased dramatically (Davis and Ward 1991). As with the Haw River settlements, overall numbers of sites decrease, but this decrease is a consequence of amalgamation rather than depopulation. Data from excavations shed further light on these changes during the Early Contact period.