What are the long-term histories of Native American communities in Tidewater Virginia? How did Virginia Algonquians draw on deep traditions in their responses to European colonization? How do contemporary Virginia Indians interface with their pasts? In an effort to address such questions Anthropology Professor Martin Gallivan and his students have investigated several Native village sites in the Chesapeake. His archaeological study of the Powhatan capital of Werowocomoco recovered evidence that the community was structured around an unusual enclosure, built circa AD 1300, that set the community apart from others in the region. Starting this past summer, Professor Gallivan and his students turned their attention to the site of Kiskiak, another political center in the Tidewater Algonquian world.
Located along the York River downstream of Werowocomoco, Kiskiak was the seat of a weroance (or local chief) and the scene of important encounters between European colonists and Powhatan Indians during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The village played a role in the failed sixteenth-century Spanish mission and in the early history of the Jamestown colony. Fourteen William & Mary undergraduates enrolled in the Kiskiak Archaeological Field Methods course, learning excavation techniques and laboratory analysis during the summer session class. Three graduate students in the Anthropology PhD program, Ashley Atkins, Chris Shephard, and Jess Herlich, worked as teaching assistants on the project. The site is about ten miles east of the College on the Naval Weapons Station. Navy cultural resource managers have been strongly supportive of the College’s investigations at Kiskiak for several years. The recent efforts at Kiskiak build on archaeological work conducted by the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research on the base.
The 2010 excavations uncovered deposits dating from the Late Archaic period, circa 3000 years ago, through early seventeenth century materials contemporaneous with Jamestown. Since the site has never been disturbed by mechanized plowing, its archaeology is remarkably intact. In addition to finding post stains from houses in the village, students excavated a portion of a shell midden that extended over 6 feet below the surface. A level near the top of the midden dating to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century contained a copper-alloy spiral, likely a European trade item. Late Woodland deposits contained corn and other botanicals associated with an agricultural economy. Deeper still, Middle Woodland deposits contained a dense array of oyster shells. At the bottom of the cultural deposits, spear points dating to the Late Archaic period over 3,000 years ago were recovered alongside the fossilized tooth of a megaladon, a massive shark extinct for a million years before Native settlement of the area.
Such stratified deposits are critical for understanding the long-term culture history of a region. Analysis of these materials is ongoing and involves undergraduate and graduate students who participated in the field school. A report on the excavations is expected early in 2011, and Professor Gallivan plans to return to Kiskiak in the 2011 summer.