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Donnaha (31YD9) is a well-known site that was occupied primarily during the Late Woodland period and is related to the Dan River phase, although people lived there both before and after that main period. The site is located on the west side of the Yadkin River in Yadkin county. Excavations have been done by Wake Forest University, which has been working in the Great Bend area of the Yadkin River Valley since 1973. Donnaha has difficult and complex soil layers, the interpretation of which is complicated by modern flooding and looting by pothunters.

History of Excavations

The first excavations at Donnaha happened in 1973. This was an exploratory excavation, aiming to determine site limits and stratigraphy and to interpret what was going on with features an burials. A series of 2-meter squares was randomly selected for excavation after the completion of a walk-over survey. In 1975, excavations continue to enlarge the sample of features and burials and to identify house patterns.

Research Questions

The excavations undertaken by Wake Forest University at Donnaha uncovered large amounts of ceramic, bone, stone, and shell artifacts. No definitive house plans were identified, although partial posthole alignments suggest some burials may be associated with small houses or enclosures. Numerous trash-filled pits and 19 human burial were excavated. The trash pits contained high densities of mussel shell, as well as numerous maize cob fragments. Maize seems to have been added into a horticultural system that was based on squash and other crops. The settlement model at Donnaha, with smaller autonomous villages, is thought to have been related to farmers’ need for good soils. The burials uncovered at the site consisted of individuals who were placed flexed inside oval or circular pits, and several were buried with shell and bone beads. Marginella (small marine shell) beads would have been sewn on burial garments, while tubular shell and cut disc beads made of bone and shell were strung and worn as necklaces. Conch shell gorgets (an item with two or more holes worn around the neck) were also found with two individuals.


Ward, Trawick H., and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr.
1999 • Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.