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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).