Magnetometry Survey Complete

ETSU Geosciences Department conducts a survey. This gives us a modified look below the surface to find housing structures, pit features, or central hearths. We are currently awaiting the results

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And these are some of the results, off a small grid area, displaying 3-5 housing structures and various potential pit features. This image is copyrighted and edited for public consumption only


Chiscas, Spanish Entradas, and Joara

A quick disclaimer on this entry. I am in no way qualified to discuss this topic. Many archaeologists have spent a good chunk of their lives trying to figure all three of the topics above and how they fit into the picture. If you really want to read more about the subject you should read the following:

David G. Moore, Robin A. Beck, Jr., and Christopher B. Rodning, “Joara and Fort San Juan: culture contact at the edge of the world”, Antiquity, Vol.78, No.229, Mar. 2004, accessed 26 Jun 2008

David Moore, Robin Beck and Christopher Rodning, “In Search of Fort San Juan: Sixteenth Century Spanish and Native Interaction in the North Carolina Piedmont”, Warren Wilson College Archaeology Home Page, 2004, accessed 26 Jun 2008,

Any of the books by Charles Hudson, such as “Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun”…and a host of other works.

This is more or less a back of the envelope musing not meant to be taken as anything more then fun as are most my entries.

The Chiscas have been a mysterious grouping of peoples for a long time. What we do know of the Chiscas comes from the Spanish Entradas of Pardo during the 16th centuries. Juan Pardo built the first Spanish outpost in 1567-68, near present day Morgantown N.C. This fort was built at the ancient indian town of Joara.

While at the fort, one of Pardo’s commanders, Hernando Moyano, made military forays into the surrounding areas and this is where the story of the Chiscas takes off. This is from the vaults of North Carolina History Project:

“The snowy winter of 1566-1567 temporarily stopped Juan Pardo’s exploration of modern-day Piedmont and western North Carolina, so he and his Spanish force built Fort San Juan near the Indian town Joara (near present-day Morganton). When the weather permitted, Pardo continued his expedition. But he garrisoned the fort with between twenty to thirty men under the direction of Sergeant Hernando Moyano, whose interest in locating minerals and gold more than likely prompted the only attack against Indians during the Pardo Expeditions.

During the spring of 1567, Moyano and fifteen Spaniards and an unknown number of Indians attacked the Chiscas. Recent archeological scholarship locates the Chisca town near Saltville, Virginia. The rival tribe is unknown but scholars contend that the Joara chief and his warriors allied themselves with the Spaniards. Whoever they were, the Indians scalped fallen Chisca warriors. Juan de Ribas, a participant in the foray, claimed thirty years later that the rival chief paid Moyano in gold.

A chief from the mountains soon threatened to attack the Spaniards, so Moyano launched a preemptive strike. With his men and an unknown number of Indian allies, Moyano traveled four days and found and burned Guapare, the town of the mountain cacique on the Watauga River. No indisputable source exists regarding the number of Indian fatalities, but one Spaniard estimated 1,500.

After the attack, Moyano explored what is now East Tennessee and eventually built a fort near Chiaha (near Dandridge, Tennessee). The sergeant and his detachment stayed there until October, when Pardo found them unharmed. Moyano and his men abandoned the fort, joined Pardo’s second expedition, and began a treacherous voyage eastward, across the mountains.”


Warren Wilson College, Archeology Department, (accessed July 10, 2007) and “Moyano’s Foray” (accessed July 10, 2007); Charles Hudson, The Juan Pardo Expeditions: Exploration of the Carolinas and Tennessee, 1566-1568 (Tuscaloosa, 1990, reprint 2005).

By Troy L. Kickler, founding director of the North Carolina History Project

Naturally as a SWVA native studying Cherokee Archaeology along the Nolichucky and Watauga this is of a great interest to me. Most of the information I am providing would not be considered scientific information because we’ve yet to gather large databases of information on our areas and past archaeological research is scarce at best. We have however made great strides in building a collection of sites that have vast amounts of ceramics and other cultural material from the Nolichucky and Watauga areas which we plan to begin compiling soon.

It makes some sense to me that the Chiscas could have been located in Southwest Virginia, particularly in the upper Holston regions. This past summer I made some general surface collections from a few sites in and around Mendota Virginia (Upper Holston River). The pottery here is distinctly different then what I find on the Nolichucky and Watauga of slightly later time spans. The paste of the pottery, the tempering agents, and the general forms of the pottery are very strange and unique, so much so that I have a hard time comparing these sherds to much of anything I’ve seen in East Tennesse and broadly speaking SWVA. Much of the pottery is shell tempered but has a totally different plasticity then what you would commonly find in East Tennessee. Some of the tempering is rock tempered but not the sand/grit matrix that was commonly used in East Tennessee. Some of the stamping is so odd that I’ve never seen it anywhere, such as this sherd below:

While these assemblages are not from Saltville (purported location of Chiscas) they are downstream from this area by a 15 or so miles. In Lee County, Dr. Maureen Meyers (Ole Miss) has conducted much work on pottery types but the Holston is lightly documented other then general surface collections or broad survey work which was mostly done in the 20th Century. This site as also produced lots of raw copper/shell that is further evidence of an important trading location:


What I find particularly interesting is that Moyano is thought to have attacked at least one village on the Watauga or Nolichucky areas. The Upper Nolichucky and Watauga both contain large amounts of soapstone tempered pottery which is a very distinct type of pottery that was made by peoples of the Joara Empire. At “Cane Notch”, an important site in the Upper Nolichucky, we find large amounts of Curvilinear stamped soapstone tempered pottery which is a distinct pottery style that likely originates from influences in or around Joara (see Burke Phase pottery). The use of soapstone as a binding agent for the clay of the pottery cannot be easily replicated because outcrops of soapstone are primarily geographic areas near Joara.
Pictured Above: Soapstone Tempered Curvilinear Stamped Pottery

This is an important distinction because it implies an active relationship between groups of people. It could be implying anything from a trading network to intermarrying between groups, or even that certain parts of our region were considered apart of the northern fringes of the empire of Joara. What’s for certain is that an unusually high number of soapstone tempered sherds (comparatively speaking East Tn) are finding their way to the Upper Nolichucky and Watauga regions.

In 1978, Clif Boyd noted in a survey of the Watauga Reservior a cluster of 14 sites that contained soapstone tempered ceramics. There also exists a great deal of building evidence that Burke Phase ceramics likely connected from the Watauga to the Upper Nolichucky. Today many of those connecting sites contain houses or subdivisions but we have some sites that are still intact, including Cane Notch. Our glass trade bead assemblage from Cane Notch highly corresponds with Spanish dated trade beads (XRF 2013) which could place a portion of the Cane Notch habitation within the same time spans of Joara. Cane Notch’s ceramic assemblage also highly corresponds with a Joara time span and we have confirmation of both AMS and luminescence dated sherds for this period. If the quantity of these vessel fragments implies an important interaction then why would the peoples of Joara participated in a deadly raid against people that share some degree of relations? And if further research proves that important connections existed then what could have caused the splintering of this relationship? Or is it possible Moyano was confused of his location or historians have mistaken the location of the attack? Below is a rough map of some of the sites with “foreign” pottery types as it relates to the Pisgah Cultural groups…kind of a rough layout of the region in the mid to late 16th century.

Political Alliances

As of today these type questions are impossible to answer. First we must know the true extent of the relationship. This can be further defined by gaining large systematic collections of ceramics from our area which will give us a better understanding of the political landscape here. We have to know what % of the sherds of a particular site are soapstone/grit/shell etc. If it turns out that only 5% of the total sherds of a given site are tempered with soapstone then that would likely imply less interaction while the inverse is also true. We have to excavate a site where soapstone tempered ceramics are present and compare everything from the architecture to dietary habits between Burke Phase sites in N.C. and what might resemble a Burke Phase contingent in East Tn.

We also believe the Cane Notch Site lays along an important divergence route that is the most direct route to the Wataugan settlements which in turn is also a good route to Joara. This is also important to consider because it’s one of many proposed routes that the Spanish were using from Desoto to Pardo. At times I think this route is somewhat understated because of the lack of research in this area and little historical documentation. This lack of documentation of the trails and networks of our area should be expected because it would appear our Cherokee settlements were likely some of the first to exit the region (late 1600s) compared to the finer resolution of the Middle/Lower/Overhill groups of later time spans. It’s also well documented that the Cherokee of the 16th century avoided large scale participation in the early hide trade with Europeans and thus less historical documentation is available today. These factors make archaeological research in the area more difficult because we can visibly see great towns and settlements of the Cherokee existed here but it’s likely an uphill battle when trying to demonstrate how these towns connected through trade routes that are today gone and little documented.

Even if we remove the Spanish from the equation, it’s a very logical indian network route. Once you exit the Watauga you can head Northwest and be in contact with groups in SWVA, obtaining copper and salt while exporting greenstone/mica or marine shell that you might have obtained as a middle man in the piedmont of North Carolina. You could also head due Southwest and enter Cane Notch which is a straight shot to Chiaha. Heading southwest you will not encounter any significant mountains and the Nolichucky is very traversable with giant open floodplains flanking both sides of the river. It would really surprise me if groups were able to head due west from Joara and try and enter the Nolichucky. This terrain is really rough with multiple 2000 ft rocky gorges and dangerous white water. I spent this past summer in much of this gorge area and I came away thinking how impossible it is to navigate and under no circumstances would I follow that route. It should always be noted that routes that don’t seem feasible by today’s standards do not mean that weren’t easily overcome by native American standards. From Watauga to Johnson City to Embreeville is a very smooth entry point with no sizeable gorges or ridges impending progress. Indeed the names of the creeks still imply the significance of these routes as Cherokee Creek flows from Johnson City into Cane Notch. If you factor in the incredible ceramic diversity of the Upper Nolichucky then you can begin to see a compelling case that our area was likely situated within important indian corridors, which *may* have also been ideal for the Spanish.



Looking for archaeological resolution part 1

As a researcher my main interest has to be widdled down into a workable framework which I had long decided on the late prehistoric time period from about 1400-1700 in the Nolichucky Valley.  This is a particularly interesting yet challenging time span for many reasons.  Number 1, the Nolichucky Valley has been one of the least researched areas in the state so I have limited information to go from.  Number 2, by the time the Spanish and English have arrived they created such political and social turmoil that they have disrupted the entire region, resulting in the coalescing of certain groups and the displacement of others.  As you can see from the two images below, a great amount of change occurs in the region just from roughly 1550 to 1650…100 years.


17th Century


Map layout by Robin Beck

The purple circles in both images represent Joara, an empire that spanned a tight range from roughly 1400-1570 A.D…These peoples ceramics are referred to as “Burke Phase”.  They used distinct pottery which was tempered with soapstone and had prolonged contact with the Spanish Entrada of 1568, whom built  the first European fort in the interior United States during this entrada (which was later burned down by the indians).  It’s most likely that this sustained contact resulted in their eventual demise but led to the coalescence of the Catawba Indians many years later.  The Burke Phase cultural has gradually been extending it’s geographic range North from archaeological work by Robin Beck and Tom White among many others.  See Fort San Juan here:

The Red Circle below represents Chiaha, which is better known as “Dallas Phase” peoples.  They inhabited a large chunk of East Tennessee and are considered to be on the fringe territory of the Nolichucky.  Their pottery is distinctly plain shell tempered and can be found readily mixed in the assemblages of many different sites in our region, particularly on the Middle and Lower ends of the Valley.  They encountered sustained contact with the Spanish as early as 1541 and began to wane not long after.

As stated above, both pottery types of Dallas and Burke Phase are found in the Nolichucky but seem to be somewhat seperated in density.  In the Upper Nolichucky and Watuaga regions it is not uncommon to find large amounts of Soapstone Tempered Burke Ware.  But in the lower valley it is more common to find Dallas Wares.  This has been noted as early as 1968 when Howard Ernhest Jr noted this in his intial survey of the Middle Nolichucky Valley.  So what does this representation of pottery density mean?  Was the Upper Nolichucky Valley part of the Joara sphere of influence?  Was the lower Nolichucky an intergral part of the Dallas Phase?  Or was this region truely a boundary zone that allowed fluid trade between both empires while hosting a people who were essentially wealthy middlemen traders?

In the summer of 2015 we will begin execavations of indian town  “Cane Notch” site number 40WG143, in hopes of beginning to understand some of these dynamics.  Cane Notch pottery is represented by many cultures, including Burke Phase and Dallas Phase, as well as the later Qualla (Cherokee) emergence phase that is more easily identifyable on the landscape.


Above: Qualla Curvilinear Vessel


Above: Shell Tempered, Applique Handle, Dallas or Overhill Tradition


Above: Soapstone Tempered Burke Phase Sherd


Above: Catawba looking vessel, with nested spirals overlayed Simple Stamping

It’s going to take lots of work and excavations to further define this region since we only get consistent cultural type potteries emerging around 1550-1680 which we call Qualla Phase (Cherokee).  When Qualla springs onto the scene it engulfs all other pre-Qualla phase pottery types and a rapid cultural change seems to take place.  Some village sizes dwarf their earlier predesscors, seemingly expressing some kind of shift in population into the Nolichucky River Valley by at least 1550.  Are refugees flooding the Nolichucky Valley during the 17th century out of fear of the Spanish entradas which had long lasting effects on these areas?  Are migrations coming down from the North as some origin stories seem to be saying?  Or is it a comibination of both?  What is evident is that the Nolichucky River a central part of the Cherokee homeland during this period

Nolichucky Trade Beads

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Glass trade beads have often been termed the “worlds first international currency” by Historians.  These beads also entail another story that involved colonization and slave trade.  First introduced in Africa, these beads quickly became the go to item for European traders looking to carve out a niche in Africa.  They would quickly spread as colonization moved rampant throughout the world.  Less technologically advanced peoples were drawn in by the allure of something that could not conceive.  We have many historical accounts of Native Americans becoming enthralled at the chance of owning the beads which lead to pillaging of entire civilizations.  A strand of trade beads could often profit a European trader beyond his wildest imaginations while leaving the recipient with what we now can reflect on as one of the worlds worst cases of buyers remorse.

At the site I currently study we have many of these beads.  Technology has advanced so far in this field that we can now “zap” the beads with a special laser gun called an XRF gun.  This gun essentially gives the archaeologist a read out on the chemical composition of the bead and the most likely manufacturer.  The end result is that they have become important time markers to know who was when and where at certain sites that contain these items.  The Spanish were the first to employ trade beads as a bargaining tool in North American.  The English would later come along and dispense these beads in large numbers in the 17th century along with Kaolin smoking pipes.  The beads were colored by infusing certain metallic compounds into the glass, like lead, nickel, zinc, copper.  The beads were manufactured in many different countries from China to Italy and became a very lucrative business. These beads are incredibly hard to find in the field because most are so small. You almost have to employ a method that involves crawling along the surface. We were lucky enough to have two of the beads incorporated into an archaeological product originating out of the University of Tennessee. The findings were interesting because the beads returned some of the earliest dates out of a cluster of sites spread over the Southeast United States. The dating ranges of the beads were 1570-1630, kind of an unusual time span considering no significant prolonged contact between Europeans and Native American is supposed to be occurring during that time span. The beads could have been traded into the region from other neighboring groups of Indians who had better access to the coast areas, or they could have been trade beads acquired from earlier Spanish expeditions. The possibility even exists that non-documented English explorers had cut deeper into the interior then previously thought. One of the trade beads could be ID’d through KIDD and KIDD’s trade bead seriation in which they described it as “non-faceted chevron bead” or “starr bead” type IKv4 which had a dating range of around the XRF dates of late 16th century or early 17th century. With such a tight range of bead dates it will be a goal of ours to find more of these beads to better define archaeological resolution of the Cherokee groups that called this area home.

Trade BeadsSSSS