Early Settlers in the Upper Yadkin River Valley
SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.
Why do we live where we live? Maybe we like the schools or the short drive to our favorite science museum. But why are communities built where they are?
Dr. Eric Jones, Assistant Professor of Archeology at Wake Forest University, is is trying to answer this question about some North Carolinians that once lived in your neighborhood...
Native American communities from AD 1000 to 1600 or so, so just prior to Europeans arriving into the area. A lot of the sites are kind of south of Pilot Mountain, all the way over into Wilkes County. The sites I’m working on now are actually near Jonesville and Elkin, the central part of what we call the upper Yadkin River Valley.
Based on previously published research, Dr. Jones found that part of the locations’ appeal was the -day to day conveniences- that we might expect..
Some of it is related to subsistence in particularly agriculture. It also looks like some of it may have been (about) secluding and maybe even tucking villages into places that maybe weren’t quite as visible, which may be a defensive tactic or also could be related to prevailing weather. They also tend to be in areas with lower solar radiation, some people might be trying to get away from the hot sun at times. They’re settling in particular on the natural levees and fields to protect from, your houses aren’t going to get wet if that area doesn’t flood.
Location is key, and Dr. Jones is discovering that native settlements may have been more like our own than we might expect.
As much as resources and environment factors seem to be important in those decisions inter-relations with other groups are just as important. We tend to think of these smaller scale societies, ones that we may have traditionally called bands and tribes, as being very environmentally focused, being all about where’s our next meal coming from. When in fact, a lot of the work I’ve been doing shows that relationships, economic, political, social relationships with other groups may have played a huge role in where people are choosing to live.
We haven’t given past groups, whether its native americans or in other areas of the world, credit for being much more socially, economically and politically engaged with other groups, that we kind of take for granted today. We tend to think about, particularly with globalization today, all these connections. And those types of things were going on in the past too, and we tend to to downplay those a little bit in favor of these kind of environmental explanations.
Settlement Ecology is a practice of determining human settlement patterns. Or, showing where people lived. That takes a multidisciplinary approach.
The definition of anthropology is the study of people. Well, that touches on almost every other field you can think of. Obviously we’ve got the archaeological methods that are involved there, and archaeology is a subfield of the wider field of anthropology. A lot of the theory is called settlement ecology theory. That comes originally from both cultural anthropology and archeology, so its pulling from different subfields within anthropology. A lot of geology goes into it. We’ve done a lot of sedimentology at the site to understand what the landscape looked like at that time. There’s a lot of human ecology as well, looking at how people interrelate to both natural and cultural environments there. What we tend to call in anthropology ethnohistory, a blending of anthropology and history, to understand what kind of cultural information we can get out of historical documents. Geography. That's a big part of what I do as well. When you’re studying people of the past, how do we understand all these other economic systems and political economies and things like that. So again, on those multiple different scales you get a sense of how people were navigating the natural and cultural landscapes at the time.
The scientific community is a diverse one unto itself. Often a project is so complex that it truly takes a village. This is certainly the case for Dr. Jones as he explores the settlement ecology of the ancient people of the Yadkin River Valley.