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People react with awe and surprise when they first learn that North Carolina was settled more than 10,000 years ago. Few realize that the history given in elementary and high school curricula only scratch the surface of the real but largely unwritten history of our state. How early North Carolinians lived and how they changed through the centuries cannot be discovered from lost documents and the written word. Instead, this history has to be painstakingly reconstructed from the fragmentary and fragile record left buried beneath our feet. The shovel and trowel of the archaeologist must be used to recover and decipher our unwritten past.

Archaeologists working in North Carolina recognize five major cultural traditions. From earliest to latest, these are Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and Historic. For a quick overview of the traditions you can take a look at the Pre-Colonial Periods and Historic Periods timelines. These traditions reflect general cultural patterns and changes through time. In some regions of the state, a tradition may begin at one point in time, while in another region, the same tradition may start later or earlier.

If you would rather, you may navigate this site by region rather than by time.