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Dale Hutchinson, C. Margaret Scarry, Benjamin Arbuckle


The early Colonial period of the Atlantic coast marks one of the most dramatic and dynamic periods of cultural change and interaction in the culture history of North America. The historic and archaeological resources of the North Carolina Piedmont offer a unique opportunity to examine native responses to the dramatic cultural changes associated with Colonial process. Unlike the coastal region, which has received the lion’s share of scholarly attention, colonial efforts in the North Carolina heartland were limited until the mid to late seventeenth century. For the most part, movement of European into the Piedmont began slowly after 1600, increasing only after 1644. By 1670, a steady stream of traders and packhorses moved from Albemarle Sound to the eastern Blue Ridge mountains. Within 50 years, all archaeological evidence indicates that the Piedmont was virtually abandoned to permanent human habitation for nearly a century. Thus, this region witnessed a total restructuring of cultural, economic, political, and demographic systems which took place within a well-documented, bounded geographic and chronological framework. The archaeological record of the North Carolina Piedmont is unusually rich and has been explored for over 50 years by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA) at UNC-Chapel Hill. RLA research in this region has been conducted through a long-term, research plan yielding high quality data sets recovered with consistent methodologies and provides a detailed window into native life prior to colonization during the Late Woodland period (AD 800-1600) and into the early colonial period (AD 1600-1750). It is rare to have such long-term research endeavors that yield archaeological assemblages originating from consistent recovery strategies. Taking advantage of the unique historical and archaeological resources of this region, and with support of the National Science Foundation, we examine how indigenous populations were impacted by the early colonial process in the North Carolina Piedmont, by documenting changes in diet and resource selection, and reconstructing how the changes associated with this process impacted economy, diet, mobility, and human nutrition and health. In order to frame the unique changes brought about by European colonization, we also examine dietary patterns during the Late Woodland period. We integrate plant, animal, and human skeletal data in order to perform a regional meta-analysis of dietary and nutritional responses to colonization. Few other studies have incorporated all of these datasets at the onset. Typically, plant, animal, and ethnohistoric studies originate separately, and these data are utilized in turn by bioarchaeologists. This multidisciplinary study provides an opportunity to create a uniquely detailed and integrative picture of the regional impact of colonization on native people.