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Starting in 1983, the University of North Carolina’s second Siouan Project succeeded in finding sites of the Siouan tribes who interacted with the European explorers, traders, and settlers who moved into the North Carolina backcountry during the last half of the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century.

In the north central Piedmont two Contact era phases of the Sara (or Saura) tribe follow the Early Saratown phase and provide a chronology of changes.

The Middle Saratown phase (A.D. 1620 – 1670)

The Middle Saratown phase represents the mid-17th-century occupation of the upper Dan River drainage by the Sara, or Saura, Indians. This phase was defined by excavations at the Lower Saratown site located along the Dan River. The site marks the arrival of European trade goods in the northern Piedmont, but little else seems to change..

Prior to 1670 the Sara were well-insulated from the Europeans. It is doubtful that many of the Sara during the Middle Saratown phase ever laid eyes on the English or felt the deadly sting of their diseases. The beads and trinkets that found their way to the Sara villages were passed along from Indian to Indian through traditional trade networks.

Settlement patterns during Middle Saratown changed little from the preceding Early Saratown phase. The Sara continued to occupy large stockaded villages and populations were stable. No European influences are seen in settlement, subsistence, and technology. All this changed in the subsequent Late Saratown phase.


The Late Saratown phase (A.D. 1670 – 1710)

Dramatic increases in English-made trade goods and devastating epidemics of Europeans diseases came to the Dan River area after 1670.

The Upper Saratown village, located along Dan River near its confluence with Town Fork Creek is the most extensively excavated Late Saratown village.

At the end of the Middle Saratown phase, about A.D. 1670, the flow of English-made goods reaching the Sara increased dramatically. Sometime after this European diseases struck with devastating force, making many of the excavated villages look more like cemeteries than habitation sites.

Community patterns changed drastically during the Late Saratown phase. The Upper Saratown site, occupied during the first half of the phase, consisted of a stockaded village occupied by between 200 and 250 persons living in circular houses.

A very different pattern is seen by the close of the 17th-century, when the Sara communities are made up of widely dispersed households. Ceramic evidence suggests that fragments of ethnically diverse tribes may have merged with the Sara in these late sites to form a dispersed refugee community.

Pottery from the Late Saratown sites is called the Oldtown series. Smoothed and burnished surfaces are most common, followed by net-impressing. Most of the pots are large cooking or storage jars. Hemispherical and cazuela bowls were also found, often decorated with incised lines and punctations.

The basic subsistence pattern of the previous two centuries continued in the Late Saratown phase, with a balance between wild and domestic food sources. Like other Piedmont Siouan phases, there is no evidence that European animals played a role in the subsistence cycle.

Mortuary patterns reflect dramatic changes during the Late Saratown phase. Large amounts of European-made ornaments, particularly glass beads and copper trinkets, accompanied burials, which were placed in the village within and near houses. At first, burials matched earlier forms, but toward the end of the phase a drastic change took place. Cemeteries with numerous shallow burial pits and very few associated artifacts were created away from the villages, perhaps indicating awareness of the contagiousness of European diseases. The fact that most of the dead were subadults may indicate their deaths resulted from a single epidemic.