Four human burials were recovered from the Tillett site during the 1979 excavations. The first was the bottom remnant of a burial pit in square -42L6 extensively disturbed by ground leveling activity on the site, but three others in the -42 trench and its extensions were relatively intact although the bones were in poor condition from immersion in salt water (see Figure 12b, d). In a situation that seems all too frequent in archaeological projects, the three intact burials were exposed during the final two days of field work, requiring an extra effort by the crew to remove them and complete back-filling of the site. Location of the four burials is shown in Figure 10, in relation to other features in the -42 trench area. Appendix A contains the osteological description and analysis.

In addition to the four burials scattered fragments of human bone were found in the disturbed upper levels of square 4L4, where the grading machinery had obviously destroyed a burial pit; in level 1 of squares -48 and -56R2; and in Test Square A from the 1972 work at the site.

Burial 1

Excavation of square -42L6 began with arbitrary 5 centimeter levels as the depth control units in order to determine the extent of disturbance from bulldozing of the site. Throughout the top ten centimeters of the square, scattered fragments of human bone possibly representative of two individuals (see Appendix A) were found, and only when the square was troweled for plotting at ten centimeters below surface was the intact remnant of Burial 1 identified. (Page 30)

Figure 10. Features and Burials in -42 Trench

Click on Image for larger view (Page 31)

The remaining pit, approximately ten centimeters deep, contained only broken fragments of long bones (tibia, radius and ulna), a left calcaneus and a carpal phalange in no apparent anatomical order (Figure 12a). No pit outline was visually discernable since the fill of the pit was the same as the surrounding shell midden, thus the dotted pit outline (80 cm. diameter) shown in Figure 10 was plotted on the basis of an observed difference in soil compaction of the pit fill in relation to the surrounding midden. Burial 1 contained the remains of an adult female approximately 20 to 25 years of age (see Appendix A). Because of the disturbance of the burial it is difficult to determine whether this was an inhumation or the secondary deposit of a bundle, although the bones remaining in context suggested the latter type of deposition. The burial pit intruded into the midden from an unknown and previously removed level, but the presence of Colington ceramics in the pit fill (Table 4) and surrounding level confirm its assignment to the Colington component.

Burial 2

This burial contained the partially disarticulated remains of an adult male (Figure 11b, c), older than 25 years of age at death (see Appendix A). The burial pit was oriented northeast-southwest with an elongate oval outline 65 cm. wide and a remaining length of 1.2 meters in squares -42, -42L2, -43L1 and -43L2. Feature 7 had intruded into the southwestern end of the pit (Figure 11b, c), narrowly missing the skeleton and precluding an accurate measurement of the original outline. The pit was originally dug from an unknown point in the overlying shell midden (Zone II), and identification of the burial occurred when the cranium was exposed in the bottom level of Zone II. No pit outline was observed at that level due to the similar nature and color of the pit fill and the midden, but after exposure of the skeleton and removal of the surrounding midden, the outline was easily traced in the Zone III sand into which it intruded for a depth of 10 cm.

After death, the individual had been prepared for burial by removal of the skin and all soft parts of the body, and had probably been stored or kept out of the ground for a time sufficient to permit some deterioriation of the cartilaginous connective tissues. Scraping, or "fleshing", marks observed on the frontal and left parietal bones of the cranium (Figure 11d) have the characteristic linear gouges into the compact bone surface made by a tool with a serrated edge. The vertebral column was still articulated with ribs, left scapula and arm in normal anatomical positions, and partially overlay the disarticulated leg bones; over these, the disarticulated parts of the pelvic girdle (innominates and sacrum) had been placed; the cranium was deposited adjacent to the cervical vertebrae at the northeast end of the burial but in reverse of its normal anatomical orientation; the mandible lay in front of the face and the long bones of the right arm were below the eastern side of the skeleton. All of the bones were in (Page 32) poor condition from intermittent immersion in salt water. Colington ceramics in the pit fill (Table 4) place the burial in that component.





Figure 11. Burial pit outlines and Burial 2. (a) pit outlines of Burial 2, 3 and 4 (right to left, respectively); (b) skeleton in Burial 2 exposed and intrusive Feature 7 to right, view south; (c) vertical view of disarticulated individual in Burial 2 and east side of Feature 7 (at top of photo); (d) fleshing marks on frontal and left parietal of Burial 2 cranium. (Page 33)





Figure 12. Burials 1, 3, 4. (a) fragmented long bones in Burial 1 pit; (b) water in the Burial 3 pit at current sealevel and Burial 4 being cleaned in background; (c) Burial 3, view east after pumping out water; (d) Burial 4 in process of cleaning and water at current sealevel in pit. (Page 34)

Burial 3

Burial 3 contained the semi-flexed inhumation of an adult female (see Appendix A). The burial pit, first observed at the top of the Zone III sand (Figure 11a), was oval-shaped with its main axis oriented northeast-southwest, and measured 1.2 meters by 50 cm. The individual was placed in the pit on her left side, facing northwest,.with the cranium at the southwestern end of the pit. The left arm was tightly flexed against the body with the hand below the chin, while the lower right arm extended outward across the left with the hand near the knees of the loosely flexed legs (Figure 12c). The pit intruded 20 cm. into the Zone III sand below present sealevel, resulting in poor condition of the bones from constant immersion in salt water (Figure 11b) and required constant pumping and sponging of the pit in order to clean and finally remove the skeleton. The pit was filled with typical midden soil and debris, including Colington ceramic specimens (Table 4) which date the burial to the Colington component.

Burial 4

This burial was located in square -42 and its eastward extension, -41.5R1, opened to expose the entire outline of the pit (Figure 11a). The generally oval pit outline, observed at the top of Zone III, measured 1.05 by .8 meters with its long axis north-south and intruded into the underlying sand to a depth of 25 centimeters. Similar to Burial 3, the bottom of the pit and its skeletal contents were below present sealevel and salt damage to the bones had left them in very poor condition. The pit contained the flexed inhumation of an adult male, probably advanced in age at death (see Appendix A). The skeleton lay on its left side, facing east, with the cranium at the north end of the pit (Figure 12d). Apparently a pit, originating in the overlying midden zone, had been dug into the center of the burial, destroying the thoracic region, and generally damaging the cranium and other parts of the skeleton. A human incisor and frontal cranial fragment recovered from the midden above the burial pit in square -42 may belong to this individual and had been redeposited as a result of excavating the intrusive pit. No artifacts were included with the burial. All ceramics from the pit fill (Table 4) belong to the Mount Pleasant series.

Other Human Remains

Bone Fragments in Square 4L4

Human bone fragments from levels 1 and 2 (0-20 cm. below surface) of this square were recovered from the sifter screen, and apparently. (Page 35) were widely scattered throughout the disturbed midden deposit in this square by grading of the site. Seventeen fragments are from the parietal, frontal and temporal regions of the cranium; one is a mandibular fragment with the left half of the mental eminence; teeth include a third molar with 2nd degree attrition and a premolar; and two are shaft sections of a radius. All appear to be from an adult individual who may have been a male, a presumption based on the relatively rugged mental eminence, the only available indicator of sex. The distribution of the bone fragments suggests that a burial was destroyed in the immediate vicinity of square 4L4 and its contents subsequently scattered by the earth-moving machinery. The type of burial and actual number of individuals is not known, although the recovered fragments suggest a single individual. No pits were observed. The disturbed levels contained cultural material from both the Colington and Mount Pleasant components.

Bone Fragments in Squares -48 and -56R2

In situations similar to that in square 4L4, scattered bone fragments were recovered in these squares. Seven cranial fragments, three of which appear to be from a child's cranium, and three primary teeth (lower incisor, canine, molar) from level 1 of square -48, and four fragments (three femoral shaft; one sacral) of an adult skeleton from level 1 of square -56R2 probably resulted from the destruction of burials in the area of these squares. Cultural material in level 1 of both squares was mixed, with both the Colington and Mount Pleasant components represented.

Bone in Test Square A

A human premolar recovered in level 8 of this original test square in 1972 may represent a loss during the life of the individual. No other evidence of human remains was found during the 1972 excavations.

As noted in the introductory section of this paper, the 1938 digging by Paul Green and Ben Dixon MacNeill exposed (and presumably removed) "parts" of a human skeleton "a foot under the surface". They "followed the backbone" until pottery was found and fragments of the skull (Dare County Times 1938). The newspaper account apparently describes a disturbed inhumation, but little else can be ascertained from the source. If Feature 7 is the actual Green excavation, then that burial was in close proximity to those recovered by this project.

Cultural-Temporal Affiliation of the Burials

None of the four burials contained artifacts or other material intentionally placed in the pits with the deceased, thus precluding temporal or cultural assignment on that basis. All of the burial pits (Page 36) were filled with midden soil and had obviously been dug and filled after considerable accumulation of the midden deposit. Included in the fill, along with the dark organic soil and shells, were faunal material (mammalian, avian, reptilian), lithics (jasper spalls) and ceramics. Of these, only the ceramic specimens have temporal sensitivity sufficient to permit a relative date for each of the burials, based on the long-standing assumption that the fill of any pit will usually contain cultural material in use at its level and moment of origin in a site.

Table 4 lists the ceramic sherds from the fill of the burial pits. Burial 1, which originated and terminated within the shell midden zone, contained only Colington fabric impressed and plain sherds; Burials 2, 3 and 4 also originated in the shell midden but intruded into the sterile sand below the midden. Mount Pleasant, Mockley and Colington series sherds were present in the fill of Burial 2 and the Burial 3 fill contained Mount Pleasant and Colington sherds with the latter series predominant. Only Mount Pleasant ceramics were present in the Burial 4 fill. The ceramic evidence places Burials 1, 2 and 3 in the Colington component, and Burial 4 in the Mount Pleasant component of the site sequence.

Burial Patterns

The Tillett site burials revealed additional complexity in the Colington phase burial patterns and reconfirmed previous data on those of the Mount Pleasant phase. Burial 4, assigned to the Mount Pleasant phase on ceramic evidence in the pit fill, conforms to the predominant type of flexed or semi-flexed burial in the Mount Pleasant phase pattern as it is presently known in the North Coastal Region (phelps 1983:33). Burials of this (Page 37) type have been found in large, presumably sedentary sites as well as in smaller seasonal settlements, and the presence of the type at the Tillett site is not unexpected.

The Colington component burials present a different aspect of the burial pattern from that observed in previously excavated sites, but one that could perhaps have been predicted from the ethnohistoric descriptions of socio-political organization and reflection of that organization in the treatment of the dead. Heretofore, ossuary burials have been the only type reported for Colington phase sites in North Carolina (phelps 1983:40-42) and in other contemporary phases in the Middle Atlantic subarea (Snow 1978). Ubelaker (1974:14) has suggested that these mass burials contain the secondarily deposited deceased representative of a cross-section of the total population at particular time intervals, and he distinguished the historic period ossuaries containing larger numbers of individuals along with European trade goods from those of the late prehistoric period with fewer skeletons and varying quantities of inclusive native artifacts. The Colington phase ossuaries fall within the latter category (phelps 1980) and are the southern representatives of a late prehistoric burial type which appears now to extend to coastal Massachusetts (Bradley, et al 1982). The ossuaries were typical of the prehistoric and protohistoric cultural manifestations of Algonkian-speaking societies along the Atlantic seaboard, and although the burials are well known, there is less information on preparation of the dead for burial and of differential treatment of the deceased from the various social ranks. This problem is directly related to the fact that few sites have been sufficiently excavated to investigate the existence and distribution of different burial types, and the scarcity of recorded observations concerning burials and preparation of the dead in the ethnohistoric sources. The Tillett site burials suggest differential treatment of the dead from different ranks in a class-stratified society.

The individual in Burial 2 had been prepared for burial by stripping the flesh and soft parts of the body from the skeleton after an appropriate period of decay. This type of preparation for burial is that described for political and religious leaders in all of the Algonkian societies from northern North Carolina to the Delaware River. After such preparation, the individual was usually stored in a mortuary temple, but in a seasonal community such as the Tillett site, the individual may have been interred with the intent of later removal to the mortuary temple at the base community. If this was the intent, one can only speculate upon the reasons for leaving the individual in the ground. On the other hand, this type of preparation of the dead may apply to the entire class of nobles, and might not require removal after burial in seasonal sites. The evidence from Burial 2 currently raises more questions than it answers. (Page 38)

Burial 3, the flexed inhumations, represents a type not described in the ethnohistoric sources for this region (Quinn 1955). Although Feest (1978:279) lists such a burial type for the Carolina Algonkians, the only extant description applies to the Virginia Algonkians as recorded by John Smith (1624:35), who wrote: "For their ordinary burials, they dig a deep hole in the ground with sharp stakes, and the corpse being lapped in skins and mats with their jewels, they lay they upon stickes in the ground, and so cover them with earth." Smith also observed that different beliefs about the after-life prevailed for the nobility and commoners; after noting that political and religious leaders enjoyed eternity "beyond the mountains" in the form of their ancestral god, he stated: "But the common people they suppose shall not live after death, but rot in their graves like dead dogs" (Smith 1624:37). Burial 3 is apparently that of a commoner, and suggests that a more extensive search in larger, permanent sites may reveal the single inhumation type as well as ossuaries in a more complex pattern than has previously been known.

Burial 1 was too disturbed to securely assign to a type although the remaining evidence suggested a secondary type of interment similar to Burial 2.


Evidence of structures that might have belonged to the two prehistoric components of the Tillett site was nearly nonexistent. Scattered post molds and holes were plotted and sectioned in two squares, 20R21 and -42L6. Four post holes in -42L6 were sectioned and then fully excavated. Two of these were below Feature 6, one in mid-square and one toward the northwest side (Figure 10). When sectioned, all four were observed to have rounded bottoms and all contained a midden fill of dark organic soil, oyster shells and a few animal bones but no diagnostic cultural material. Their content suggests refilled holes.

Seven post holes, also refilled with general midden debris and lacking artifacts, were plotted in square 20R21. Five of these had rounded and two had pointed bottoms. It is possible that these may have been the result of construction activities in the Historic component, since other posts in square 20R21 were historic and the square was much disturbed by that component.

Some prehistoric structural features would be expected but the meager evidence reclaimed precludes any valid statement or component assignment other than the presence of construction activity of unknown type and origin. (Page 39)


The Historic component of the Tillett site refers to the Green family residence and associated activities between ca. 1884 and 1910 or 1920, when the residence was demolished. While this component was not a major goal of the research, the information reclaimed may add a note to the history of Wanchese.

A family informant provided the dates of house construction and demolishing, and the presumed location of the structure on the highest elevation on the northeast side of the site (Figure 3). The location was tentatively confirmed by artifact frequencies in the excavations and by surface evidence. In the latter category are the boat slip cut in from Great Gut toward the hammock (Figure 3) and a wood beam with two iron spikes, partly on the surface, and partly buried in the top level of square 30R2, also in the hammock. The highest frequency of historic artifacts occurred in squares 20R21 and 30R2, with decreasing numbers in 4L4 and the one-meter squares along the east-west baseline (Figure 3). A large post hole with the remains of a cypress post or piling, sawed flat on its bottom, was recorded in 20R21 (Figure 7a), and it is possible that some of the smaller, refilled post holes in that square may be historic rather than prehistoric. While the large post hole had inclusive historic artifacts, the others had nothing in their content to suggest their age. A smaller post hole was observed in the south wall of square -1L13, and it, too, contained the remains of a wood post, probably from a fence. Toward the south end of the site only scattered historic material was found.

An analysis and description of the historic artifacts, given in Appendix B, confirms their late 19th-early 20th century date. While the quantity of artifacts is low due to the limited excavations in the primary habitation area, they do suggest residential, subsistence and light industrial activities.

An hypothetical reconstruction of the component places the residence on the hammock near the road, a boat shed or workshop near the boat slip, and a fenced area, perhaps for livestock, west-of the house. (Page 40)

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