Author: William Hancock

a former archaeologist and a retired exhibit designer for the Jamestown Settlement
ENTRY

Houses in Early Virginia Indian Society

Houses in early Virginia Indian society became necessary after the Ice Age, when the Indians began depending less on the hunt for survival. Among the Powhatan Indians, especially, but elsewhere in the region, too, a house, or a yi-hakan in Algonquian, typically had a circular or oval floor plan and was rarely if ever longer than forty feet. (The Powhatans designed special houses for their weroances, or chiefs, and their kwiocosuk, or shamans.) Built by women, Indian houses consisted of long, bent sapling poles that were covered with either woven-reed mats or bark. They had a single door, which also served as the only source of light and ventilation. Construction was labor-intensive and time-consuming, and Englishmen, who often were hosted by the Powhatans, complained that they were dark, smoky, and flea-infested. Within a hundred years of the landing at Jamestown, the Indians had begun to adopt English-style houses, but adapted them to native methods and materials (building, for instance, bark-covered cabins). After another hundred years, Indian houses had become largely indistinguishable from those built by non-Indians.

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