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Garbon Creek (31CR86) is a Late Woodland site that was located in Carteret County along the Neuse River where it joins the Pamlico Sound. Although the site no longer exists, the excavated portion consisted of an ossuary. An ossuary is a burial where the remains have been buried or exposed somewhere else first, allowed to decay, and then the bones of several people are gathered and buried together.

History of Excavations

Garbacon Creek was originally found when it was exposed by Hurricane Ginger in autumn of 1971. From November 17 through 19 it was excavated by Keith Egloff of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC. These excavations focused on an ossuary, or mass burial, that was dated to the Late Woodland White Oak/Oak Island period based on a small globular pot. Postholes and refuse pits were noted as eroding out of the river bank during excavation, which suggests that there was an associated village settlement nearby. However, the possible village area was not pursued during the salvage excavations and the entire site has now eroded away.

Research Questions

Excavation at Garbacon Creek was done before the implementation of NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act), which was passed in 1990. Before this time, it was common for archaeologists to both excavate and remove skeletons from burials. Additionally, given the eroding nature of the Garbacon Creek site, removal of the ossuary skeletons would have been important simply to save them from destruction. Although burials are treated differently today, there is still a lot that can be learned about Native lives from those who passed away. Garbacon Creek is an example of a burial assemblage that has been analyzed a few times by bioarchaeologists in order to glean different types of information about the people who lived and died at the site.

Analyses of the individuals from this ossuary help to provide a more nuanced picture of Native lives in the Late Woodland of North Carolina. ON the one hand, we have European accounts that depict the area as being incredibly rich in natural resources. On the other hand, as all of us know who live here, there are still large seasonal swings that affect the availability of plant and animal resources, particularly during the winter. This can result in seasonal nutritional deficiencies that may not have been noticeable to Europeans, but would have been important to the health and well-being of the people living through them.

The excavated portion of Garbacon Creek ossuary contained 29 individuals, 17 of whom were adults and 12 children. Amy Anderson’s (2012) honor’s thesis examined the relationship between nutrient deficiencies and infection. IN particular, she focused on treponemal disease and the effects of different types of malnutrition on the likelihood of catching treponemal bacteria and how treponemal infection may then show up on a skeleton. The Garbacon Creek ossuary was particularly useful for this examination because it contained a high proportion of children (41% of the individuals) and also has a high proportion of children’s remains that have signs of infection (23% of long bones).

Anderson’s focus was on treponematoses, a collection of four diseases that are caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum, including pinta, yaws, bejel (nonvenereal syphilis) and venereal syphilis. Three out of the four disease (excluding pinta) can cause skeletal changes when they are in an advanced state, although there is no way to differentiate which of the three was the original cause of the skeletal changes. By combining evidence of treponematoses with other pathological features of the skeletal remains, Anderson suggests what the Late Woodland disease landscape of the Southern Coastal region might have looked like. She found strong evidence of treponemal infection among Garbacon Creek adults and bone lesions in children that were likely from the same cause. Based on a lack of evidence for congenital syphilis in infants, this would probably be a nonvenereal form, so either yaws or bejel. Anderson also found that anemia was present in the Garbacon Creek population. Anemia is when the body’s red blood cell count or hemoglobin is less than normal, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the rest of the body, and is one of the most common health conditions in the world. Two possible causes are iron-deficiency and B12 deficiency, which can be caused by a seasonally limited diet. In addition to this, parasites like fish tapeworm and hookworm can cause anemia through intestinal bleeding and competition for B12 with their human hosts.

A third condition Anderson identified in the Garbacon Creek ossuary was scurvy; this is a deficiency in Vitamin C that can block iron metabolism and cause hemorrhaging, both of which can result in anemia. Scurvy is most common in groups of people who have to eat stored provisions for months, something that would happen during the winter. The first green shoots available in May (such as little barley and maygrass) are abundant in Vitamin C, so scurvy would have been an issue that resolved itself every spring. However, this may not have been soon enough for infants and young children, particularly if their immune systems were already compromised by other diseases. Anderson suggests that there may also have been dietary restrictions for those who were sick and during weaning of infants. Vitamin C and B12 are both connected with immune function, so even at a low level of deficiency, individuals could have been increasingly susceptible to infection and bleeding.


Anderson, Amy
2012 • Treponemal Infection in its Biosocial Context at Late Woodland Garbacon Creek, North Carolina. Unpublished Honor’s thesis, Archaeology Curriculum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Ward, Trawick H., and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr
1998 • Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.