Author: Keith Egloff

Williamsburg, Virginia, retired archaeologist from the Virginia Department of Historic Resource

Ely Mound Archaeological Site

The Ely Mound Archaeological Site is located adjacent to Indian Creek, near Rose Hill, in Lee County, and dates to the latter part of the Mississippian Period (ca. AD 1200–1650). Lucien Carr, the assistant curator of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, excavated approximately one-sixth of the nineteen-feet-high mound in the 1870s. Although the lower half of the mound contained few indications of human occupation, the upper half yielded ash, shell beads, pottery, small gaming disks of stone or pottery, and a large, polished, sandstone bi-concave discoidal used to play the game of “chungke.” Since then, no further excavation has occurred. The mound, which Carr has connected to Cherokee Indians or their ancestors, provides evidence counter to the so-called Lost Race theory, which argues that American Indians were not sophisticated enough to build such mounds. Early archaeologists suggested that the mound-builders were instead Vikings or others such as the “lost tribes of Israel.”


Crab Orchard Archaeological Site

The Crab Orchard Archaeological Site is located in the mountainous area of Southwest Virginia near Pisgah, on the Clinch River, about four miles west of Tazewell, in Tazewell County. Taking its name from a grove of crab apple trees found in the valley by the first English settlers in the 1770s, the site shows the location of a Virginia Indian town that dates to between ca. AD 1400 and 1600 during the Late Woodland Period. Excavations in 1971 and 1978 uncovered evidence that the settlement was surrounded by a palisade, or tall wooden wall, and contained approximately fifty houses, each typically with a central hearth along with occasional storage pits. Outside the palisade was a long, irregularly shaped, semi-subterranean structure probably used as a communal meeting space. Ceramics, stone tools, beads, and numerous human burials were also found at the site. Perhaps distinctive for its size—the town’s population may have been 400—Crab Orchard nevertheless resembles other known Indian settlements throughout Virginia. The purpose of the palisade is uncertain, but may have been to protect the Indians from their enemies or from wild animals. It may also have been symbolic of the town being the home of an important leader or chief.


Ceramics, Virginia Indian

Indians have made ceramics continuously in Virginia for more than 3,200 years. Pottery manufacture in North America first arose more than 4,200 years ago in the coastal plain of Georgia and spread north from there. Pottery production was a cottage industry, conducted by families with the knowledge of manufacture handed down from mother to daughter. Archaeologists have defined more than sixty Virginia Indian wares, recording the variables in vessel size and shape, temper, surface treatment, and decoration of pottery. This wealth of pottery information provides archaeologists with ways to help date sites and to describe Indian social groups and interpret their interaction and movement.