Skip to main content
Broad Reach (31CR218) is a coastal site sheltered by the islands of the Outer Banks in Carteret County, North Carolina. Excavations by TRC Companies in 2006 uncovered numerous domestic structures and archaeological features, suggesting a complex history of American Indian occupation during the Middle to Late Woodland periods (AD 200-1500). Analysis of more than 48,000 animal remains and 18 intentionally buried domestic dogs provided new insights into subsistence strategies, coastal adaptations, and the roles held by canine companions in this community.

Meat-Based Subsistence

The Woodland-period residents of the Broad Reach site hunted and fished in nearby forests and woodlands, rivers, estuaries, and the ocean. Their meat y portion of their diet incorporated more than 50 different animals, mostly mammals and boney fishes but also reptiles, birds, and cartilaginous fishes.

Some of the more common taxa include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), common loon (Gavia cf. immer), Canada goose (Branta canadensis), wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina), snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), sea turtles (family Cheloniidae), spotted burrfish (Chilomycterus atringa), Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), right-eye flounders (family Pleuronectidae), sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus), greater sturgeons (Acipenser spp.), sea catfishes (family Ariidae), sharks (superorder Euselachii), and eagle rays (family Myliobatidae). Possible Harbor seal (Phoca cf. vitulina) and dolphins (family Delphinidae) also were identified in the assemblage.

In addition, numerous modified animal bone and deer antler tools and ornaments were found at the Broad Reach site. Pictured below are two bone perforators or pins with carved decorations:

carved perforators
Bone perforators or carved pins from the Broad Reach site (Photo credit: Heather Lapham).

Dogs as Companion and Working Animals

Excavations at Broad Reach uncovered the 18 domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) who were buried upon death by the human occupants of the settlement. Their skeletal remains and careful burial suggest these canines were both companions and working dogs.

Stable isotope analysis of the animal remains from the site show that the diet of these dogs was more similar to human diet than to the diet of other mammals, indicating they were either fed by humans or scavenged their leftovers. The skeletal remains of dogs were rarely found among the general food refuse, and cut marks from butchering or consumption were absent. These findings indicate that the dogs were companion animals rather than a source of meat for the human occupants of the site.

Several studies have shown that modern working dogs develop vertebral osteophytosis with greater regularity than non-working dogs. Although the root cause of this disease is unknown, it may be induced or aggravated by trauma or repeated stress. Almost two-thirds of the adult dogs buried at the Broad Reach site display pathological changes on their vertebrae, including vertebral osteophytes, curved vertebral spinous processes, and abnormal spinous process tuberosities. These vertebral pathologies suggest continuous stress was applied to the dogs’ backs which may have occurred when the dogs carried or hauled heavy loads.

For More Information…

Inquiries about zooarchaeology at the Broad Reach site, please contact Dr. Heather Lapham.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Heather Millis and other archaeologists at TRC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.