Woodland People (1000 BC to AD 1524)

Archaic culture gave way to a new way of life archaeologists call Woodland. The Woodland period in North Carolina is characterized by four important innovations: pottery-making, the bow and arrow, semi-permanent villages, and horticulture. Woodland people flourished in the plentiful and mild environment of the Southeast. They took advantage of the abundant deer and rich flora, including hickory nuts and acorns. In some parts of the Southeast, they built more permanent villages and large ceremonial and political centers, and they began to grow and domesticate a wide variety of plants including squash, sunflowers, gourds, maygrass, and goosefoot.

Here at Fort Bragg, most of the Indian sites date from the Woodland period and probably were camps where people spent a few days, weeks, or months hunting, fishing, collecting, and processing local resources. Archaeologists have not found any evidence of large villages in the Sandhills region. Occasionally, they find evidence of two or three houses at a single Woodland site. This may be because most of the region’s soils were poorly suited to Woodland farming practices and crops.

One of the more unique Woodland features archaeologists have found near Fort Bragg are small, low, sand burial mounds. Exactly how these small mounds were used by Woodland people and what role they played in their religious and ceremonial life is not well understood. No burial mounds have been discovered at Fort Bragg or Camp Mackall.

The most important technological innovation of the Woodland period is the introduction of pottery. Ceramic pottery decorated with fabric, cord, and net impressions arrived in the Sandhills region in the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods (approximately 3,000 years ago). Pottery changed the way people prepared, cooked, and stored food. Before the invention of pottery, food was cooked on spits, in leather bags with boiling stones, on stone griddles, or in stone bowls. Storage was limited mostly to baskets, fabric bags, and leather containers. Woodland potters made pots in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on how the pot would be used. Generally pots with wide openings were used to cook food. Pots with smaller openings were used as storage containers.

Archaeologists call the earliest pottery in the Southeast Stallings. It is named for an archaeological site at Stallings Island, Georgia where it was first found. It is easily identified by the Spanish moss potters mixed into the clay as temper. Temper helped the clay pots dry more evenly. Thom’s Creek pottery also appears about this time but potters used sand as temper instead of moss. By the Middle Woodland period, new types of pottery appeared across the Sandhills including Cape Fear, Yadkin, and Hanover. Hanover pottery continued into the Late Woodland and a new type called Pee Dee arrived very late in the period. Again, archaeologists distinguish these types by their decoration, temper, and the shapes of the pots.

Along with pottery, Woodland people made new kinds of projectile points, stone and shell beads and gorgets, and stone and clay pipes. Another important development during the Woodland period is the invention or introduction of the bow and arrow. This new hunting tool was easier to use than the atlatl and better suited for hunting deer and birds, and as a weapon of war. Many of the smaller projectile point types archaeologists find in Woodland sites were used as tips for arrows rather than larger spears and darts.

There are over 900 Woodland archaeological sites at Fort Bragg. Generally, these are small camps where people stayed for a few weeks or months to hunt, fish, and collect plants. Site 31HK206 is a small Woodland camp where archaeologists found remnants of a fire hearth, pottery sherds, projectile points, and thousands of stone flakes created as people made or sharpened tools. At site 31HK1686, archaeologists found another hearth that contained pieces of animal bones, evidence of someone’s meal. Fragments of a small Hanover type pottery bowl were found next to the fire pit.