Some Woodland Period Sites of North Carolina’s Piedmont

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by Peter G. Murphy and Alice J. Murphy, St. Johns, Michigan

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.4, pg.200

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.57, No.3, pg.138

The cultural traits that are most often cited as distinguishing the Woodland period from the ear­lier Archaic are threefold and include: the advent of pottery making; a shift to sedentary or semi-sed­entary habitation centers; and the culture of useful plants (or horticulture). At some point during the Woodland period the bow and arrow became part of the tool kit although there is evidence suggest­ing that use of the atlatl and bow and arrow over­lapped during the first half of the Woodland. The Woodland period in North Carolina’s Piedmont, generally regarded as spanning about 2,600 years, has commonly been divided into three sub-periods: Early, 1000 B.C. — A.D. 200; Middle, A.D. 200 —800; and Late, A.D. 800 – 1600 (Ward and Davis 1999). Coe (1964) labeled the transition from Late Archaic to Early Woodland in the Piedmont as a cultural discontinuity. To this day it remains un­clear whether there was a developmental relation­ship between the Late-Archaic Savannah River people who made large, stemmed spear points and knives, and the Woodland cultures that followed, characterized by their smaller, predominately tri­angular points. However, some recent evidence is thought to suggest a transitional period between Archaic and Woodland culture groups, rather than cultural disruptions caused by migrations of en­tirely new groups into the Piedmont.

Over the past 80 years, largely beginning with the pioneering work of Joffre Coe during the 1930s, much information has been collected con­cerning North Carolina’s archaeology, including the Woodland period. Of special note is the par­tially restored Late Woodland (Pee Dee) mound site in Montgomery County, known as Town Creek (Coe 1995), and the large artifact assemblages uncovered during its excavation. Woodland ar­tifacts have been found throughout the Piedmont but true understanding of the variety of cultures that existed during the Woodland era is very lim­ited. Nevertheless, more than a dozen Woodland culture groups, defined by artifact assemblages, have thus far been recognized. Among these are: Badin, Vincent, Yadkin, Roanoke, Clements, and Uwharrie which are considered to be prehistoric, and Pee Dee, Caraway, Gaston, Hillsboro, Clarks­ville, and Randolph, which are considered to be Proto-Historic or Historic. There are also many sub-types. Coe (1964, 1995) and Ward and Davis (1999) provide more detail on these archaeological phases or culture groups and the artifacts that serve as their indicators.

In the late 1960s, we made surface collections from 83 sites in six Piedmont counties (Murphy and Murphy 2009, 2010a, 2010b). Of those sites, 66 yielded projectile points that could readily be classified according to the types defined by Coe (1964, 1995). Of the 66 sites, 26 produced points ranging from Early to Late Woodland. But only at six sites, in four different counties, were Woodland points found in numbers that we considered rela­tively abundant compared to numbers of Archaic points found. The two most productive Woodland sites were in Durham County (69 points) and Or­ange County (39 points). Most of the Woodland points were triangular, commonly made from a type of Carolina slate or white quartz. Later points were more variable, ranging from small triangular to crudely made and often asymmetrical, weakly stemmed, types.

Along with the points, we found other artifacts typical of the Woodland period. These included clay potsherds that were: plain, cord-marked, fab­ric-marked, or net-impressed, some with decorated rims. Several small polished or partially polished celt fragments were also found, along with drills and scrapers. No aboriginal pipes, bone or shell artifacts, or beads were found at our sites. Occa­sional evidence of early European influences were found, such as white clay pipe stems.


Figure 1 Above:  Representative types of Woodland period points found in the North Carolina Piedmont. Top row, left to right: Pee Dee serrated triangular (ca. A.D. 1500-1600), Pee Dee pentagonal (ca. A.D. 1500-1600), Clarksville small triangular (ca. A.D. 1500-1750), Hillsboro triangular “petite” form (ca. A.D. 1700), Randolph stemmed (ca. A.D. 1550-1830); Bottom row, left to right: Caraway triangular (ca. A.D. 1000-1750), Yadkin triangular (ca. 290 B.C. —A.D. 1200), Ba­din crude triangular (ca. 500 B.C. — A.D. 500), Roanoke large triangular (ca. A.D. 500-1200), typical drill of the Wood­land period. Nomenclature and age estimates based primarily on Coe (1964, 1995). Longest point measures 2 inches.

The Durham County site, located about 17 km from the city of Durham, produced a total of 73 projectile points, 69 of which were of the Wood­land period. The basal end of a polished stone celt was also found. The earliest Woodland points were of the Badin type (ca. 500 B.C. — A.D. 500) and the latest were Randolph (ca. A.D. 1550 — 1830.). Of the 67 triangular points, most of which were similar to the Caraway type, 19 percent were white quartz; the remainder were primarily of a type of Carolina slate. Typical examples of these and the other Woodland points found at Piedmont sites are shown in Figure 1. The small number (4) of Ar­chaic points included Early-Archaic Palmer and Middle-Archaic Morrow Mountain. No evidence of Late-Archaic Savannah River points were found at this site.

The Orange County site, located about 3 km from downtown Chapel Hill, produced 50 points in total, 39 of which were Woodland. Only one point (an unusual Randolph) was white quartz, the remainder being a form of Carolina slate. As with the Durham County site, the earliest Woodland points were Badin type and the most recent Ran­dolph (Figure 1). Intermediate Woodland types included Caraway triangular and Pee Dee pen­tagonal. This interesting site appears to have been occupied up to quite recent times — as evidenced by the 22 crudely made Randolph points, far more than at any of the other 66 Piedmont sites included in this survey. Net-impressed and other potsherds were also found. Evidence of earlier occupation was present in the form of Stanly, Kirk, Rowan, Morrow Mountain, Guilford and Savannah River points representative of the Archaic period.

Considering that the Archaic period spanned about 9,000 years whereas the Woodland spanned only about 2,600, it is not surprising that Wood­land artifacts at most Piedmont sites are far less abundant than those of the Archaic, or entirely absent. Furthermore, the relatively small number of Early Woodland sites in comparison to those of the Late Archaic has suggested to some that the Piedmont was not a favorite place to live during the Early Woodland and that population densi­ties seem to have been relatively low (Ward and Davis 1999). At the 66 sites, only 17 percent of the 1,279 projectile points found were Woodland. The remainder were Archaic or Paleo. It is also pos­sible that during the Woodland period, especially when horticultural practices became more wide­spread, Indians were living in more “urban” clus­ters. Only in the southern fringe of the Piedmont, and in a portion of the mountains in the western part of the state, has any firm evidence of the Mis­sissippian culture been found in North Carolina (Ward and Davis 1999), none of which occurred in the total of 83 sites we documented in the central Piedmont.”Used by Permission of the Author”
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