Sixteenth-Century Community Patterns

Several sites within the Dan, Haw, and Eno river basins have been excavated extensively. In addition, numerous sites have been subjected to limited excavations and extensive auger testing to locate intact features. Auger testing has been particularly helpful in providing distribution and density information on subsurface features and burials at the more dispersed settlements.

The most extensively excavated sixteenth-century site in the North Carolina Piedmont is the Wall site (Petherick 1987:30). Excavations have uncovered 14,300 ft2 or approximately one-fourth of this palisaded village. At least seven domestic and two special purpose structures have been identified along with eight burials and 73 other features (see excavation plan). Most of the latter consist of large postholes or shallow basin-shaped pits. Deep storage facilities are rare at the site. The population at the Wall site is estimated to have been between 100 and 150 people, based on the size and number of structures (Davis and Ward 1991). Multiple palisade alignments and the replacement rate of wall posts within structures (cf. Warrick 1988) further suggest that the site was occupied for between 10 and 20 years.

The Wall site, like other Hillsboro phase sites, is characterized by a sparsity of burials. Assuming that the burial population is randomly scattered across the site, which is the normal Siouan pattern, an additional 24 graves for a total of 32 would be expected. If the other population parameters are even close to being correct, this translates into a low crude death rate. For example, if the site was occupied for only 10 years by a small population of 100 individuals, the crude mortality rate would be 32 (per 1000). If, however, it was occupied for 20 years by a population of 150 individuals, the crude mortality rate declines to 11 (per 1000) (see Ubelaker 1978:96).

Based on architectural and stylistic evidence, we believe the latter estimates to more accurately reflect the population dynamics of the Wall site. But even the higher crude mortality rate is less than that calculated for a large pre-contact Siouan burial population. The analysis of 129 skeletons from the Shannon site in southern Virginia yielded a crude mortality rate of 38 (per 1000) (Hogue 1988:99).

A low density of burials also has been indicated at other Haw and Eno river sites dating to the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Only two burials have been identified at the Mitchum site, and these date to the mid-seventeenth century. Extensive auger tests (covering an average area of 11,000 ft2), and excavations in areas with high pit densities, have resulted in the identification of only two other definite burial pits from six sites dating to the Haw River and Hillsboro phases. This contrasts with the excavation of 66 non-burial features from these same sites. Given the extent of the auger coverage and the fact that all site areas with subsurface feature concentrations were sampled, it is highly unlikely that burials clustered in cemeteries or other discrete site areas went undetected.

To summarize, there is no archaeological evidence, either from settlement data or extensive site excavations, that massive population declines occurred during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in the Siouan area of the North Carolina Piedmont. Neither the purported Spanish forays into the fringes of the region nor the early English settlements in Virginia and along the North Carolina coast had any noticeable impact on the inhabitants of the interior Piedmont. This situation, however, began to change after 1650 when English traders from Fort Henry began to travel into the North Carolina interior, and it is after this time that we have the first written accounts of the Piedmont tribes.