Two sets of data contribute to our current understanding of upper Catawba valley archeology. The first is extensive site survey data from the 1960's and 1970's and the second it limited site excavation at several sites in the 1980's. The survey and excavation data make it clear that a sizable 14th to 16th century population inhabited the upper Catawba and Yadkin river valleys. This population is identified primarily through the distribution of sites with a preponderance of soapstone-tempered Burke series ceramics. This series is also believed to represent protohistoric Catawba ware.
Little excavation has occurred on the sites in the upper Catawba valley. The most extensive investigations were conducted in 1986 at the Berry site, a four to five acre site located on a broad alluvial terrace on Upper Creek, a small tributary of the Catawba River, in Burke County. The site includes the remnant of an earthen platform mound; originally more than 12 feet high, it was bulldozed in the early 1960's and is recognizable today by only a two foot rise in the field. The 1986 revealed intact features adjacent to the mound. Most significantly, the Berry site has yielded 16th century Spanish artifacts and is now thought to be the site of Juan Pardos' 1566 Fort San Juan. Interestingly, neither the Berry site not others in the region yield 17th or 18th century artifacts.
Burke series ceramics are characterized by soapstone temper and curvilinear complicated stamped, plain, and burnished surface treatments. Jar rims are usually folded and notched or pinched while carinated bowls exhibit a variety of Lamar-style incised decorations. The series is believed to date from the 14th to early 17th centuries and may represent protohistoric Catawba ware.
Although North Carolina's upper Catawba River valley (and the nearby upper Yadkin valley) was noted for 19th century mound explorations, few modern archaeological investigations were conducted within the Catawba region until recently. Renewed interest in the region was sparked in the early 1980's when documentary research (Hudson et al) suggested that 16th century Spaniards Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo followed trails through the valley during their respective explorations of the interior Southeast.
It was further suggested that many of the peoples of the Catawba valley were organized into chiefdoms subject to the Chiefdom of Cofitachequi, located near Camdem, South Carolina, and that the upper Catawba valley was the setting of one of Pardo's forts. In the early 1980's it was uncertain whether any mid-16th century Native American sites were located in the Catawba valley, much less that settlements in the region might be organized as chiefdoms. However, subsequent investigations have clearly demonstrated a large proto-historic population in the upper Catawba region as well as a likely location for Pardo's Fort San Juan.
Continuing research interests include: a reliable protohistoric and early historic period chronology; a description of the regions' settlement system as a means to explore the level of political complexity; the relationship of upper Catawba valley protohistoric populations to the historic period Catawba Indians.
"This day, we pass'd through a great many Towns, and settlements, that belong to the Sugeree-Indians, no barren Land being found amongst them, but great plenty of Free-Stone, and good Timber. About three in the Afternoon, we reached the Kadapau King's House,..." John Lawson 1701
Lawson's brief statement is the earliest specific reference to the Catawba peoples living along the Catawba River and its; tributaries between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Rock Hill, South Carolina. It is uncertain whether these peoples are related in any way to the the Protohistoric populations of the upper Catawba region. It appears that the upper Catawba region is relatively depopulated by the mid-17th century, possibly as a result of the 16th century Spanish contact. Future research will coordinate with colleagues at the UNC-Charlotte and the Schiele Museum of Natural History as we investigate the potential link between Protohistoric and Historic period Catawba valley peoples.
In 1939, the U.S. De Soto Expedition Commission, headed by John R. Swanton, presented its Final Report to the U.S. Congress. Nearly a half century later, Hudson, DePratter, and Smith reopened debate on the explorations of 16th century Spaniards Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo in the interior Southeast (DePratter, et al. 1983; Hudson, et al. 1984). The recent discovery of 16th century Spanish ceramics and hardware at the Berry site, together with John Worth's discovery and translation of the 1584 Domingo de Leon account (1994), suggests that the Soto and Pardo routes proposed by Hudson, et al. are generally accurate through the Carolina Piedmont. However, both documentary evidence and the location of the Berry site - tentatively identified as the principal town of the 16th century aboriginal chiefdom of Joara - suggest that these routes across the Appalachian Summit Area west of the Berry site should be refined. We have done so by examining the distribution of late prehistoric and protohistoric archaeological site clusters in the study area, and by identifying the early roads and trails in this region. This reconstruction demonstrates that the Soto and Pardo expeditions likely crossed the Appalachian Summit by different routes, thereby resolving apparent discrepancies between the documentary sources and prior reconstructions regarding the location of towns and chiefdoms in this region.
Though recent evidence supports this reconstruction through the Carolina Piedmont, we have revised that section of the Hudson route between Joara and Chiaha. (Map from The Juan Pardo Expeditions, by Charles Hudson.)
The Hernando de Soto expedition arrived at Xuala (Pardo's Joara) on May 21, 1540. They departed four days later, and according to Ranjel, "crossed that day a very high mountain range." After traveling through the mountains for about five days, the army arrived at Guasili, located on the upper Nolichucky River near present Erwin, Tennessee. Two days later, the expedition passed through Canasoga, also on the Nolichucky, though camped in the open. After four more days of travel, they entered the town of Chiaha, probably located on Zimmerman's Island, now submerged by Douglas Lake near the present town of Dandridge, Tennessee.
Though recent evidence supports this reconstruction through the Carolina Piedmont, we have revised the sections of the Pardo and Moyano routes between Joara and Olamico. (Map from The Juan Pardo Expeditions, by Charles Hudson.)
In January, 1567, Juan Pardo arrived at the aboriginal town of Joara. Due to heavy snow in the mountains, he and his company were unable to continue their westward trek. After building a small fort, San Juan, where he stationed twenty men, Pardo returned to Santa Elena.
In the Spring of 1567, Hernando Moyano, Pardo's sergeant at Fort San Juan, departed from Joara with a small force of Spaniards and Indians. He burned the "Chisca" village of Maniateque, near present-day Saltville, Virginia, then returned to Joara. Shortly thereafter, he attacked and burned Guapere, the town of a "mountain cacique", which may have been located on the upper Watagua River. Six days after departing from Guapere, he arrived at the town of Chiaha, where he built a small fort and waited for Pardo.
Upon his return to Joara in September, 1567, Pardo learned that Moyano was "under siege" at Chiaha - Pardo left several men at the fort and hurried with the others to his sergeant's defense. Crossing the mountains in three or four days, the company arrived at Tocae, which was probably located near present Asheville, then continued on to Cauchi, near present Canton. Five days later, having briefly passed through Tanasqui, Pardo and his men arrived at Chiaha, where they found Moyano and company "hard pressed", but safe.
The 16th century artifacts from the Berry site include a variety of materials, most notably sherds from at least three or four Olive Jars. The Berry assemblage is distinct from other collections of 16th century Spanish material recovered in the interior Southeast. Save for the assemblage from the Martin site in Tallahassee, Florida, only three other 16th century Spanish sherds have been recovered in this area. Significantly, all three had been altered into non-utilitarian ear spools or gaming disks. That none of the Spanish sherds recovered from the Berry site shows such alteration strongly suggests the disposal of utilitarian debris. Further, that multiple sherds have been recovered from three of the Olive Jars may indicate that these vessels were broken at the Berry site (Worth 1994). As to the Spanish Barrote nail, John Worth has documented the scarcity of nails in Spanish Florida, even among Spaniards themselves - there is no record of these items ever having been traded by Spaniards to the Indians of Spanish Florida. Due to the domestic nature of this assemblage, we conclude that trade was not involved, but that rather, these items reflect a direct, long-term Spanish presence, such as the small garrison built by Juan Pardo at Joara, Fort San Juan.
These two sherds, one of which was recovered during the 1986 excavations, the other from the surface in 1994, represent one of at least three, and perhaps four, distinct Olive Jars recovered from the Berry site. Aside from the Martin site, no other Olive Jars have been reported from the interior Southeast.
On the left are three sherds associated with another glazed Olive Jar. One of the five sherds associated with this vessel was recovered from undisturbed moundfill during the 1986 excavations; the others were recovered from the surface in 1994-95. On the left is a sherd identified as "Grayware" by Stan South and Chester DePratter. This type, awaiting formal description, differs from the 18th century Grayware described by Deagan. The type of Grayware identified by South and DePratter has, as yet, only been reported at the Berry site and 16th century Santa Elena. This example was found on the surface of the Berry site in 1994.
In the New World, Caparra Blue has a chronological range of 1492 to about 1600, and occurs in only one form, the albarelo, or drug jar. This sherd, from the rim of a small drug jar, is the most diagnostic Spanish artifact recovered from the Berry site, and was recovered from the surface in 1994.
This wrought-iron nail or spike, recovered from the surface in 1994, has been identified by Stan South as distinctive of 16th century Spanish forms. Based on measurements of length and weight, this nail would be classified as the Barrote type. Barrote nails were used for finishing work such as flooring, matting, and other projects requiring little strength.
This trade knife was recovered from Burial 1 during excavations conducted in 1986. Its short tang suggests a knife of little functional value manufactured specifically for trade. Estimates as to its age range from the mid-16th to late 18th centuries.
This drawn bead, identified as Kidd's type IIa40, was recovered from the surface in 1994. Type IIa40, though usually associated with the 17th century, has been found on sites with mid- to late 16th century components.
This lead shot was recovered, along a sherd of unglazed Olive Jar, from a partially intact humus layer above undisturbed moundfill.
This brass bead was recovered from the mound during uncontrolled excavations in the 1960's.
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