Mécou Wítahe. Ein Yukéwa Yapóske Amañishuké . . .

["Welcome, friends. A long time ago, the hilly land . . ." This is a phrase in the Tutelo-Saponi dialect of the Yésah language, the only surviving dialect of the northern-eastern Siouan peoples.]

A long time ago, the hilly land that is now called the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina was the home of our ancestors, the Yésah, a people who had lived in peace and balance with their world for centuries. Their numerous villages and towns were spread along the same fertile river valleys and meadows that are so abundant today. Though these communities were semiautonomous, each distinct village was interconnected with others through a complex web of kinship. Through time these villages maintained their collective identity as Yésah, the people of the land.

Relationships and trade were maintained among groups of villages through well-traveled trading paths. In time, such trails as the Occaneechi Trading Path become the foundation for many of today's major interstate highways. Though conflicts with other tribes occasionally arose and warfare was practiced with our traditional enemies, the people remained in balance with the land. Unfortunately, this way of life was not destined to continue. Dramatic change was sparked by the arrival of the first European explorers to our shores.

Soon after their initial contact with early Spanish and English explorers, the Indian people of the Piedmont began to suffer from diseases to which they had no immunity. These early explorers and the colonists and traders who followed also disrupted the lives of the Siouan peoples by introducing alcohol and its many ill effects to them. As our ancestors died from these new diseases and addictions, the indigenous population of the Piedmont experienced a drastic decline. The devastation was so pronounced that in the year 1708, the English explorer and surveyor John Lawson estimated that, as a result of these new diseases, at least five-sixths of the indigenous population within 200 miles of European settlement had succumbed.

While the Indian people of the Piedmont experienced this decline, European settlers established a firm foothold along the eastern seaboard. These settlers were eager to trade with the Indian people for furs and other raw and finished materials. In exchange, our ancestors were introduced to European wares and weapons. The Indian trade became a political tool of the European powers in North America, leading to additional conflict, which further decimated the indigenous population. One result of this trade was an increasing dependence on European goods, and eastern Indian nations found themselves in fierce competition for European wares and commodities. Newly introduced weapons from Europe changed the face of traditional Indian warfare. War became much more deadly and destructive for our ancestors as incursions and warfare with other Indian nations and settlers increased on a scale never before witnessed by the people of the land.

Our ancestors settled along the Eno River after the devastating attack by Nathaniel Bacon and his colonial militia at Occaneechi Island in the spring of 1676. This attack initiated a tragic period of increased warfare, forced migrations, social marginalization, and the resultant cultural decay that ultimately led to our assimilation into the dominant society. As a result of the social cataclysm that befell us, little of our material culture survived. However, much of our history and culture still lies protected beneath the earth mother.

Since the 1980s, the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA) of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has undertaken the enormous task of uncovering the archaeological record of the Yésah or eastern Siouan inhabitants of the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina. Perhaps its most effective and informative effort has been in the location and excavation of Occaneechi Town on the Eno River near Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Through their painstaking work, RLA archaeologists have been able to paint a picture of a people during a period of transition. They have actively sought the support of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and have given us, the descendants of the historic Occaneechi, Saponi, and related tribes, a more precise understanding of our unique culture and history as well as a firmer connection to our ancestors. The Occaneechi-Saponi people have been and continue to be actively involved with the Research Laboratories of Archaeology throughout its excavations.

The RLA has made a conscious effort to treat our ancestors' remains with respect, allowing us, their children, to reinter them once they have been located and documented. I give special thanks to H. Trawick Ward, R. P. Stephen Davis Jr., and RLA director Vincas Steponaitis for all their heartfelt support and work with our tribe. If, when installing this CD-ROM, you elect to view our ancestors' remains, please remember that the images you see are of human beings, our ancestors. Dokalidö Nedúge Liohatéhla Yim Ehuya Konspéwa Kebína Yalopokíwa! They are to be viewed with respect and good thoughts!

Excavating Occaneechi Town will allow you, the public, to learn about the Occaneechi people's history and culture from a unique perspective. You will be able to interact with your computer terminal as if you were actually a member of the excavation team. Examples will be shown of skilled Occaneechi craft work that has been uncovered as well as numerous indigenous and European artifacts from the site. In addition, students and professionals alike will see and learn the archaeological skills and techniques painstakingly used to obtain information about our ancestors. Enjoy using this CD-ROM and learning about the techniques used in this type of archaeological excavation. Above all, remember the ancient people whose daily lives will be illustrated on your screen. Please respect their struggles, which brought them to the Eno River valley and which we, their living descendants, continue to this day. Nekéwa Bíwa.