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test unit

Virtual Visit
The six week field season during the 2003 summer drew on the results of the survey by opening up approximately 1400 square feet in four areas of the site. Questions driving this initial testing of the site included those related to site integrity, chronology, and spatial organization. On the whole, the initial field season at Werowocomoco demonstrated that the site possesses remarkably high integrity, that the bulk of the site is dominated by a transitional Late Woodland / Contact period village, and that large features from both the Native and colonial occupations record substantial landscape modification at the site. We recovered evidence of exchange patterns from the precontact era in the form of non-local lithics and ceramics, while evidence of Contact period trade relations appeared in the form of copper objects from the Purton Bay waterfront. Flotation of all feature soils is now nearing completion, and a preliminary sorting of this material points to excellent preservation of paleoethnobotanical remains.

  Above left: Aerial photo of Purtan Bay; above right, a 16th century watercolor of the town of Secotan in North Carolina.

Excavation Areas

The first excavation block, located near the Purton Bay shoreline, uncovered a dense array of post stains, Native pottery (Townsend fabric impressed and Roanoke Simple stamped), stone tools, and fire-cracked rock - material consistent with the residential core of a Late Woodland / Contact period village. The Powhatans constructed their houses with sapling frames and woven mat walls and roofs. Such architecture often leaves behind indications of the structural footprint in the form of post stains. The excavations also revealed a slot trench in the northeast portion of the block that contained post stains and Native artifacts. The feature may represent a palisade line dating to the Werowocomoco occupation of the site.

  Above left: surveying in Block 1; above right, a feature consisting of a row of postholes
  A smaller second excavation block located at a slightly higher elevation 500 feet from the shoreline identified additional post stains containing Townsend fabric-impressed pottery. Beneath the plow zone we encountered unplowed cultural deposits containing solely Native artifacts. This unplowed "A horizon" appears to represent a remnant living surface from the Late Woodland / Contact transition.
  Above is a profile showing the A horizon, which serves as a marker for possible Woodland / Contact transition living floors. The stratum is a brighter color and is higher on the left hand side, trending down towards the right. Click on the image to see a larger version.of the profile.
  A third excavation block located almost 1000 feet from the shoreline exposed two parallel ditch features. In plan the ditches ran approximately 2-3 feet east-west and over 25 feet north-south, continuing beyond the bounds of the excavation block. The ditches were approximately 1.5 feet deep in profile with a series of lenses suggesting that the features filled slowly over time. Within one of the two ditches we identified a hearth feature containing fire-cracked rock and several Roanoke simple-stamped sherds. All of the artifacts recovered from the ditch features were Native (lithic debitage, shell-tempered pottery, and fire-cracked rock) even though English colonial artifacts occurred in the plow zone above the features. Given this juxtaposition, the ditches were either dug and filled extremely early in the English colonial occupation of the site, possibly as boundary ditches, or they are remarkably prominent Native landscape features. Two burned tap roots appeared at the base of one of features, raising the possibility that trees were cleared in order to construct the ditches. There is no clear evidence of post stains at the base of the ditches, pointing toward landscape features excavated for the purpose of demarcating space. Similar features are apparent at other Native sites in the region, including the Potomac Creek site in the Potomac River drainage and at the Buck site on the Chickahominy River. Our working hypothesis at this stage is that the ditches represent Native features associated with the Werowocomoco phase of the site. We currently await the results of two radiocarbon assays from the features, though in truth an early colonial date with an error factor of 50 or more years may not allow us to confirm the identity of the features as Native or English. Better understanding of these features requires additional excavation
Above left is a plan view of one of the excavated ditches; above right is a section through one of the ditches.
  A fourth excavation block located just over 1000 feet from Purton Bay identified evidence of a late seventeenth century through early eighteenth century English domestic site. A light distribution of Late Woodland / Contact Native ceramics and Native post stains were interspersed within the materials and features associated with what appears to be the earliest English colonial occupation of the site. As noted by other researchers, it is not uncommon to find the earliest colonial presence in areas cleared and inhabited by previous Native communities. This history of land use likely resulted partly from English efforts to profit from Native identification and clearing of the most fertile floodplain locations. Yet it is important to remember that the seizure and occupation of Native habitations also represented a deliberate transformation of the natural landscape that paralleled the English colonial usurpation of Powhatan lands.
  A plan drawing of Block 1B. This is the open area excavation near the bay and the current residence. Click on the image to see a larger version.


Perhaps most importantly, evidence recovered during the initial field season at Werowocomoco provides a tantalizing glimpse of substantial landscape features within the settlement. The possible palisade feature within the residential core of the site raises the possibility that Werowocomoco's residents segmented space in meaningful ways. The large ditch features are still enigmatic, yet all indications point to the likelihood that these features represent prominent elements of the Native landscape of Werowocomoco. John Smith made no mention of such ditch features in his accounts of Werowocomoco, though the early seventeenth century Zuniga Map may offer important clues. The map was sent by Pedro Zuniga, Spain's ambassador in London, to Spanish King Phillip III in 1608, apparently to keep the King abreast of English colonial activities in North America. The original source of the map is unknown, though it appears to be a copy of a map John Smith sent to England with his True Relation that never reached its destination. Notation on the map includes the path Smith took during his December 1607 - January 1608 captivity and scattered dots that appear to represent dispersed house locations in some Powhatan villages. At Werowocomoco the cartographer added an unusual set of symbols that appear as a set of dots surrounding a double "D" shaped pattern. Within the two "D"s are three additional dots. The significance of this notation is elusive, yet the archaeological research at Werowocomoco raises the intriguing possibility that the Zuniga Map records large landscape features at Werowocomoco that were subsequently forgotten. Additional investigation of the ditch features at the site will allow this idea to be tested archaeologically.

  Below left is the Zuniga map of 1608; below right, a detail showing 'Waruwocomoco'.
Click each map to see a larger version.