This secondary source is adapted from an article written for Ancient North Carolinians. It has been modified for length and content.
In the years between AD 1000 and 1200, Native life in the north and central Piedmont hadn’t changed much from prior Woodland times. People still lived in small hamlets whose houses strung out along river and stream banks. At times, the hamlets sat empty when people left to hunt and gather wild foods.
Around AD 900, intense maize agriculture begins, and the practice has repercussions. Population grows; people start gathering in larger villages of clustered houses; conflict erupts for reasons archaeologists can only speculate about.
Two settlements archaeologists call Hogue and Wall document the switch Piedmont people made from their tendency to live in small hamlets to living in larger, compact villages. Separated by some 400 years, Hogue is the earlier of the two. Both sat on a bend of the Eno River near Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Hogue was a small hamlet occupied between AD 1000 and 1200…Throughout the hamlet, people dug round pits, each about 2 feet deep. Freshly made, each pit was apparently used first as an underground food cupboard. It was safe and hidden, not just from animals, but from any non-Hogue humans who might poke about the hamlet when everyone was off on hunts and collecting trips.
However, as happens, the pit eventually fell out of use. People then filled it by using it as a receptacle for trash. They swept in litter from cooking hearths and sweepings from village and house floors. Archaeologists find pieces of broken pottery, animal bones, nut hulls, broken stone tools, charcoal from fires, and any odd stone caught up in the sweepings.
Enough maize kernels and sunflower seeds turn up in the trash that archaeologists think Hogue’s people were farmers. Probably, their fields weren’t big. The quantities of charred acorns and hickory nuts, along with deer, squirrel, and rabbits that archaeologists found in the pits suggest people relied heavily on wild foods. Archaeologists call this blend of grown and wild foods for subsistence a mixed economy.
Small hamlets like Hogue were sprinkled through the north-central Piedmont between AD 1000 and 1200. Most sat along ridges and knolls bordering the narrow floodplains of secondary streams. But a few exceptions, like Hogue, sat along primary streams and rivers. Because all these hamlets have only scant traces of houses, artifacts, or other hints of daily life (like pits to store food), archaeologists think few people lived in them. What’s more, people seemed to change village locations every few years in a settlement-abandonment cycle. While they stayed put in each place, they blended agriculture with hunting and gathering.
Four hundred years after people left Hogue for the last time, another group settled in the same bend of the Eno River. Archaeologists call their village the Wall site. Unlike the sparsely populated, Hogue-like hamlets, the Wall site was a densely-settled village with a larger population. This kind of village had houses placed close together, arranged to form a tight circle around an open area used by community members.
Definitely, Wall was a bigger village than Hogue. It spread over more than an acre. So far, archaeologists have excavated about one-fourth of it. And, so far, they have traced seven round houses, each having a diameter of about 25 feet. Archaeologists found, too, outlines for a couple of smaller buildings, which may have been cribs or sheds for above-ground food storage. Wide, shallow cooking pits are sprinkled among the houses and cribs. From the charcoal and ash, along with their design and the plant and animal food remains found in them, these hearths were probably used to prepare feasts for community ceremonies. And surrounding the entire village was a stockade, a wall made of upright posts. Whether people constructed it for protection from enemies or to keep animals from pilfering food stocks is unknown.
Archaeologists’ best guess is about 100 to 150 people lived at Wall. Their stay was short-lived. Archaeologists think less than 20 years passed between the time people drove in house poles and then left for somewhere else. While they were there, they planted fields of corn, beans, and probably squash in the Eno River’s rich bottomlands. They gathered the wild fruits and berries that rooted and grew in the areas they churned up around the plots. Seasonal supplies of acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts came from nearby forests. So, too, did their main source of meat, the white-tailed deer. Other small mammals, turtles, fish, wild turkeys, and passenger pigeons added variety. This evidence all tumbles out of their refuse deposits.
Comparing the two Eno River bend settlements, archaeologists note key differences between Hogue and Wall. In a few centuries, the kind of settlement went from a sparsely populated, scattered hamlet to a compact village, larger in size and population; from underground food storage to above-ground food storage; from open to stockaded village.
Wall villagers decorated vessels with a design archaeologists call simple stamped….very different from the net-impressed pottery found on earlier sites such as Hogue.
Elsewhere in the Piedmont, archaeologists find that about the same time hamlets like Hogue were cropping up along the Eno and Haw river drainages, people were settling along the upper Dan River drainage of the northern Piedmont.
For reasons archaeologists aren’t sure of, more people lived in the Dan River valley around AD 1000 than in other Piedmont parts. The extensive bottomlands along the Dan and its tributaries might have drawn them due to greater amounts of and more easily reached agricultural soils. For the most part, everyday life there mirrored the Eno River’s Hogue settlement.
But a fundamental change stalked the Dan River. Where central Piedmont people tended to keep living in hamlets, their northerly Dan River neighbors switched to Wall-like compact villages. Already boasting more people at the period’s start, the Dan River area saw a dramatic increase in population around AD 1250.
Presumably, this growing population relied more and more on corn agriculture, and archaeologists think this reliance affected the size and kind of villages people lived in. Some villages covered more than 2 acres and likely contained 15 to 20 round houses ringing a central plaza. Such villages were protected by stockades and had storage pits, cooking hearths, and graves scattered throughout.
By AD 1400, most northern Piedmont villages had made the transition from hamlet to compact village. Archaeologists generally agree the shift was one of necessary convenience. Yet they toss out two ideas about just what sparked it.
One is based on the notion of fragmentation. According to this idea, hamlet-living folks find themselves confronted with having to travel farther and farther to get to their fields. Eventually, family groups responsible for various fields get tired of the daily commute. So they settle next to the fields, clustering their homes nearby. Over time, they end up establishing a separate, independent village whose population then grows and stabilizes.
The other explanation flips the scenic coin. Instead of original villages splitting apart to create new ones, they come together. The reasoning goes that as agriculture becomes more important, people in small, dispersed hamlets start grouping. This way, they can work fields more efficiently, as well as find safety in numbers. Over time, their groupings create clustered villages that stabilize and grow.
- How did geography determine settlement of early Native American peoples in North Carolina?
- How did the impact of agriculture have larger consequences for the way people interacted with their physical environment and with the people living around them?
- What do archeologists mean when they say mixed economy?
- How did life change from the Hogue settlement to the Wall settlement? Why do you think these changes occurred?
Hamlet: small settlement, generally one smaller than a village
Repercussions: unintended consequences occurring some time after an event or action
Receptacle: object or space used to contain something
Hearth: floor of a fireplace
Hulls: shells or outer coverings
Pilfering: stealing or taking
Tributaries: smaller bodies of water flowing into a larger river
Fragmentation: process or state of breaking or being broken into small or separate parts