Stage III: Maturity and change (ca. AD 1560-1650)

The outset of this stage was marked by abandonment of 44ST2 in favor of a location on the point nearby to the southwest, known now as 44ST1. Specialized use of the ancestral site continued through the early historic period.

Use of 44ST2 at this time was no longer for general or specialized habitation. Instead, it was used for ossuary burial. Ossuaries I and IV date from this time, as indicated by an abundance of traded European goods with the burials.

To summarize, the Potomac Creek experience may not be far different in its development from what might be expected of immigrant, colonizing groups elsewhere. This is also meant to include even the early experience of the English in the New World. An initial period of highly nucleated settlement in a defensive posture, followed by a period of expansion and stability, and closing with abandonment of formerly significant sites and even disintegration or assimilation are common to both. The archaeological detection of migration and the influences it has on dominant and subordinate societies can be a deceptively complex process, and has only recently reemerged as a credible consideration among archaeologists. It is, however, an area ripe for study, and the Potomac Creek case is probably one of the better candidates to investigate.

Native Interactions

Most archaeologists acknowledge that the Potomac Creek culture is intrusive into the Tidewater region. We favor a migration-based explanation, as do others, but suggest a more distant place of origin, namely the proto-Iroquoian Owasco cultures of the upper Susquehanna River in New York and Pennsylvania, as Schmitt implied. Parallels in the Potomac Creek and Owasco records exemplify the strength of the connection. More than once, students of Potomac Creek archaeology have noted that similarities between Potomac Creek and Owasco ceramics are stronger than any others, meaning stronger than Shepard types of the Montgomery complex (Schmitt 1965). Decorative treatment is most comparable, as cord and cord-wrapped impression are common to both. In neither case are thickened/folded rims typical or common, as they are in Montgomery assemblages.

Sample of ceramics from the Potomac Creek Site (a - Late Woodland micaceous sand-tempered, cord-marked, cord- wrapped-dowel-impressed, horizontal motif; b - Potomac Creek cord-wrapped-dowel-impressed, diagonals top right; c - Late Woodland micaceous sand-tempered, cord-marked, cord-impressed, horizontal motif; d - Potomac Creek cord-impressed, horizontal motif; e - Potomac Creek cord-impressed, complex design; f - Potomac Creek cord-wrapped-dowel-impressed, complex design; g - Potomac Creek cord-wrapped-dowel-impressed, simple design; h - Potomac Creek cord-wrapped-dowel-impressed, punctate, complex combination; i - Potomac Creek Plain, incised)

Features of village plan/architecture are also consistent. Notable is the tendency for both to have palisaded villages by the late thirteenth century, while palisades tend not to become prominent elsewhere in Virginia until later. The Owasco record is marked by evidence of conflict and population movement at precisely the time Potomac Creek Culture appears along the Potomac (Snow 1994). A shared feature of the village enclosure systems is encircling ditches and earthen rings. The ditches at Potomac Creek sites are all that remains of these features, but it is not difficult to imagine a raised ring of earthen spoil that had been banked against the interior of adjacent palisades. Also, to have two or even three concurrent palisade lines is typical of late Owasco sites (Snow 1994a:36), but other than the Potomac Creek villages, the pattern is not at all typical in Virginia. Subsistence patterns at Potomac Creek sites are distinctive, too, given the greater degree tropical cultigens figure into Potomac Creek diet. The neighboring, more indigenous groups on the lower Potomac were not intensive horticulturalists.

The strength of these connections argues strongly for careful scrutiny of this possible origin for Potomac Creek, but what is a reasonable catalyst for the migration? Environmental shifts at this time may partially account for the timing of a move. The close to Owasco in New York and the appearance of Potomac Creek in Virginia coincide with the onset of the Little Ice Age at the end of the thirteenth century. Worldwide, including North America, glacial advances and ice cap expansion occurred from AD 1300 to 1700, and the effect on growing seasons and crop yields was devastating in some areas. Archaeologists in the northeastern United States regard this event as a root catalyst for cultural change, including conflict and population movements (Snow 1994). As the climate became significantly cooler, the growing season would naturally have shortened, and horticultural economies of Owasco and other northeastern groups would have been severely affected, especially viewed against the warmer than normal conditions of the preceding Medieval Optimum or Neo-Atlantic episode (AD 750-1300). One response to the resultant stress would be out-migration, and movement southward is logical if sustaining a horticultural base was important. Economic stress and resultant competition at a time like this can easily spawn conflict, and an abundance of fortified communities that appears at this time in the northern Mid-Atlantic tells such a tale. Migration is also one option for reducing the threat of conflict.

Diet and Economy

What prehistoric people ate and how they made a living are always of general interest. A key goal was to gauge the contribution of corn and other tropical cultigens to the late prehistoric/protohistoric diet. Over most of the Coastal Plain, their remains are in short supply, in spite of frequent mention of corn, beans, and squash in historical records. Our excavations revealed a relatively strong reliance on maize and other crops as compared with other Coastal Plain groups in the prehistoric period, although overall the dietary contribution must still be regarded as rather modest. These plant foods augmented the traditional staples of native plants and animals. We can suggest that the apparent origin of the Potomac Creek population north or west of the lower Potomac basin is also the source of a stronger horticultural subsistence pattern.