Archaeology at Town Creek

The Village Area: A Brief Overview

During excavations, 155 human burials (designated Burials 1-155) were encountered in the village area—"31Mg 3"—of the Town Creek Site. Most of these were cleaned, documented, and moved to UNC-Chapel Hill for further study. Numerous other probable human burials were mapped at the top-of-soil level (before any human bone was encountered) and left undisturbed.

Site Archaeology

Based on this mapping, archaeologist Joffre Coe estimated that hundreds of individuals were buried in the mound and village areas—the entire Town Creek site— during the primary Pee Dee phase occupation.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill curates skeletal remains from 140 of these burials, including at least eight that are multiple burials. Most of the remainder either did not have any human bone, or the bone was too poorly preserved to be removed.

Funerary objects, including several large ceramic urns which served as containers for human remains in some burials, were associated with 40 of these burials. These artifacts are also curated by UNC-Chapel Hill. In addition, human bones were recovered from several other general excavation contexts at the site.

Most of the 140 burials are associated with the Pee Dee phase occupation. A few burials, however, may be attributed to later occupations by unknown Siouan groups. Joffre Coe considered 23 of the burials to be Siouan, based on body position, pit type, and associated funerary objects. He suggested that they may be from intermittent occupations by Sara, Saponi, Occaneechi, or Keyauwee, but acknowledges that "none of the 23 graves that appear to be post-Pee Dee can be attributed to a particular Historic group."

Bioarchaeology

Bioarchaeologists work with archaeologists to construct what life was like for the group of people who lived at Town Creek. They combine information about an individual's age, sex, health, and nutrition with facts about how, where, and with what they were buried at the site. For example, bioarchaeologists can look at details on bones and teeth to determine the age (whether an adult or child) of an individual, as well as the general state of health (breakage, trauma, or malnutrition). Because we know corn was a regular food for the Town Creek people and corn contains a lot of natural sugar, bioarchaeologists can investigate the number and types of dental cavities to assess their overall health.

It has also been determined that if people eat a lot of corn and not much meat or fish, they will become anemic (from a lack of iron). This condition is visible in human bones. Other diseases, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, scurvy, cancer, arthritis, leprosy, and osteoporosis also show up in the bones of humans.

These scientists can determine the sex of an individual by the overall size and structure of the bones (typically men were taller and stronger, while women were shorter and had wider hips for childbirth). At Town Creek, there are indications that at least two classes of people shared this site—the elite or upper class, and the non-elite. Typically the elite class had access to better resources (such as food) and were overall generally healthier than the non-elite. This research is just beginning, and will add to our knowledge of what these people ate and what diseases they suffered.

Elizabeth Monahan Driscoll, Graduate Student, Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

NOTE: "Pee Dee" phase (A.D. 1100-1400) is an archaeological designation. The North American Indians who lived here remain culturally unafilliated. This area also contained some late prehistoric and protohistoric (ca. 1650-1700?) remains.


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