Indians have been living for over 15,000 years in what we today
call Virginia. The earliest archaeological evidence of occupation
in Virginia is known as the Paleoindian period and lasted until
8000 B.C. Being the end of the last Ice Age, the climate and environment
differed dramatically from today, with long, hard winters and short,
cool summers. These initial settlers in Virginia seasonally migrated
from place to place in search of animals and plants to eat and other
resources they needed such as chert and jasper for tools.
Beginning with the Archaic period (8000 B.C.
- 1200 B.C.), changes in the climate and environment gradually took
place, slowly approaching conditions similar to today. Virginia
Indians continued to move from place to place in pursuit of natural
resources, with population slowly rising. By the end of the Archaic
period and continuing into the succeeding Woodland period, the remarkably
rich estuarine environment of the Chesapeake Bay was becoming especially
important for coastal Virginia Indians. It was during the Archaic
period that archaeologists have found evidence of Indians first
living at what was to later become Werowocomoco.
Very dramatic changes occur during the Woodland
period which began in 1200 B.C. and continued to A.D. 1607. A more
sedentary lifeway was made possible with the introduction of agriculture
and such crops as maize, beans, and squash. With increasing sedentism
also came rises in population and increasingly complex forms of
social, political, and religious organization.
In coastal Virginia, we see the rise of the
Powhatan chiefdom by the end of the Woodland period. This chiefdom
represented one of the most complex Indian societies in eastern
North America at that time, having a population of approximately
15,000 persons by A.D. 1607 and encompassing over 6,000 square miles.
Its capital, and the principal residence of the paramount chief
Powhatan, was at Werowocomoco on the York River in present-day Gloucester
County (see Maps).