The North Carolina Archaeological Collection, maintained by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology (RLA) on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, currently comprises almost 8 million cataloged artifacts from more than 8,000 archaeological sites. It also contains over 60,000 slides, negatives, and photographs from archaeological excavations, and some 200 cu ft of paper records, including field notes, maps, and site files. The bulk of the collection comes from North Carolina and surrounding states, although it also contains materials from throughout the U.S. and from several foreign countries. In terms of size alone, it is one of the major archaeological collections in the country.
Equally relevant is the fact that most of these collections have excellent integrity and come from well-documented and controlled archaeological excavations, which greatly increases their scientific importance. For more than 70 years, the Research Laboratories of Archaeology has been one of the leading institutions pursuing archaeological research in the American South. As a result, the collection encompasses materials from excavations at more than a hundred sites, including major excavations at two National Historic Landmarks: the Hardaway site (ca. 10,000–6,000 B.C.) and Town Creek Indian Mound (ca. A.D. 1000–1600). Other well-known sites from which we have substantial excavated collections include Warren Wilson, Garden Creek Mounds, Nequassee Mound, Doerschuk, Gaston, Upper and Lower Saratown, Coweeta Creek, Jenrette, Wall, and Fredricks (Ocaneechi Town), to name just a few.
The collections from the American South span 12,000 years and covers every major period of human occupation – Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, as well as historic Indian and Euroamerican sites. Virtually all the sites that helped define the major periods in North Carolina’s prehistory reside in our collections. Indeed, these collections include the four excavated sites (Hardaway, Doerschuk, Lowders Ferry, and Gaston) that defined the first Archaic-period chronology in the eastern United States.
The online catalog permits users to browse the North Carolina Archaeological Collection for information about specific artifacts, including physical descriptions, the locations, circumstances, and dates when they were discovered, and photographs where available.
The catalog presents 28 basic data fields; eight additional data fields containing specific site location information are restricted and accessible by login to RLA staff only. Descriptions of these data field are presented below.
This text field contains the site number assigned by the RLA, using a system developed by Joffre Coe in the 1930s and derived from a site-naming system employed at the University of Chicago. This designation is sometimes preceded by "RLA-" to distinguish it from the official site number assigned by the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology. For sites in North Carolina, a two-letter prefix refers to the county where the site is located (e.g., Am = Alamance County), and the number that follows indicates that it is the n-th site recorded in that county (e.g., Am 236). Sites in other states are not designated by county; instead, a three-letter prefix indicates the state where the site is located (e.g., Vir = Virginia), and the number that follows indicates that it is the n-th site recorded in that state. Sites in other countries are designated by the country’s name (spelled out), followed by a number. A few sites have been subdivided following more intensive investigation, and these divisions are indicated by an alphanumeric suffix (for example, Sk 1a = Upper Saratown, differentiated from an earlier, spatially discrete village site designated Sk 1 and also called Early Upper Saratown or Hairston site). In cases where specific site provenience is not known, this designation may refer to a more general geographic context such as county, state, country, or region.
The RLA site-naming system originally employed a superscript letter between the county (or state) abbreviation and site number to specify the type of site (e.g., v = village, o = mound, x = quarry); however, these designations are no longer used.
This text field contains the site’s official designation, if known. Most states employ a common trinomial system, introduced in the late 1940s by the Smithsonian Institution, for designating archaeological sites. The three-part site designator consists of a numeric state code, an alphanumeric county designator (usually consisting of two letters), and a site number. For North Carolina, the state designator is "31" (North Carolina is the 31st state in alphabetic order, excluding Alaska and Hawaii which are "49" and "50", respectively). County abbreviations are the same as those used in the RLA system except for Transylvania County which is "Tr" in the RLA system and "Ty" in the state system
The responsibility for assigning archaeological site numbers was transferred in the early 1980s from the RLA to the Office of State Archaeology (formerly the Archaeology Branch), and site designations assigned up to that point usually are the same for both institutions (with the exception of the state prefix).
This text field contains the name or names commonly used for the site (e.g., Or 231 = Fredricks site). Most sites do not have a common name and are known only by their RLA or state site designation.
This text field identifies the county where the site is located (if known).
This text field identifies the state where the site is located. Sites in foreign countries are designated N/A (not applicable).
This text field identifies the country where the site is located. In a few instances, the entry may refer to a continent (e.g., South America), region (e.g., Oceania) or territory (e.g., Puerto Rico).
This text field identifies the named stream or river that is closest to the site. Because many stream names are not unique, searches for sites near a particular stream should include other geographic information such as State, County, or Quad Map.
This text field identifies the USGS topographic quadrangle (7.5-minute or 15-minute) map where the site is located. In most instances, this entry refers to a physical map in the RLA archive depicting the site’s location.
This text field identifies the North American Datum used to determine the site’s projected (UTM) and geographic (Lat-Lon) coordinates.
This numeric field identifies the UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) zone where the site is located. Sites in North Carolina lie within UTM zones 16, 17, and 18.
This numeric field identifies the UTM Easting coordinate for the site. This is a six-digit measurement (in meters).
This numeric field identifies the UTM Northing coordinate for the site. This is a seven-digit measurement (in meters).
This numeric field identifies the site’s latitude in decimal degrees (to five decimal places). Because this field contains specific information about site location, it is restricted to use by RLA staff.
This numeric field identifies the site’s longitude in decimal degrees (to five decimal places). Because this field contains specific information about site location, it is restricted to use by RLA staff.
This text field specifies the cultural period(s) and archaeological phase(s) during which the site was occupied, based on the types of artifacts found there (e.g., pottery, projectile points, and other chronologically diagnostic artifacts) or other chronological information such as radiocarbon dates. Information varies considerably in degree of specificity from site to site, and in most instances is a minimal, incomplete estimation of site duration. Multiple entries are delimited by a semicolon. This field is accessible only through the catalog’s Map Search, where specific site locations are provided, and is available to RLA staff only.
This numeric field contains the unique accession number that identifies an accessioned collection. Since the late 1930s, all artifact collections acquired by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology have been recorded in two large, leather-bound ledgers. Information for each recorded collection includes accession number (starting with accession number 1), a brief description of the collection, the name of the person(s) who collected or donated the collection, the date the collection was obtained, a brief description of the place where the collection was found, and the relevant RLA site number(s). An accessioned collection may comprise: a donated artifact or group of artifacts; a group of artifacts derived from the surface collection of a single site or group of sites; or artifacts and other materials resulting from intensive site investigation.
This text field contains a brief description of the artifacts within the accessioned collection.
This text field contains the name of the person(s) who collected or donated the collection.
This text field contains the date or date range when the collection was obtained. In most instances this refers to when the accessioned artifacts were found; however, it also may refer to the date when a collection was donated to the RLA. Dates are entered in several formats, including month-day-year, month-year, year, range of years, etc.
This text field contains the beginning date for an accessioned collection (i.e., when it was obtained) and facilitates record searches using date ranges.
This text field contains the ending date for an accessioned collection (i.e., when it was obtained) and facilitates record searches using date ranges.
This text field describes the location (i.e., site) where the accessioned collection was obtained. Early entries provide relatively detailed descriptions that are duplicated on site survey forms. More recent entries usually give site name, general location, and county.
This text field contains the specimen number associated with the catalog entry. The specimen number ranges from 1 to n and is preceded by an alphanumeric designator that identifies the general type of artifact or archaeological sample represented by the entry. The designators are as follows: a = artifact; p = pottery; b = animal bone; hb = human bone; eb = ethnobotanical sample; m = miscellaneous; s = soil sample; w = washings; and rp = replica. (Soil samples and washings [i.e., the residue from water screening] acquired before about 1983 were designated as “miscellaneous.”) In some instances, multiple artifacts represented by a single specimen number have been separated and given unique suffixes (such as p153/1 or p153-1). On one occasion in the 1970s (accession 2310), a range of specimen numbers was inadvertently duplicated; those duplicated numbers are indicated by an “x” added as a suffix.
This text field contains the unique number for the catalog entry, created by concatenating the accession number and specimen number (e.g., accession = 2351; specimen number = a1245; catalog number = 2351a1245). This is the unique designator used to label artifacts and archaeological specimen bags, and it permits the unambiguous retrieval of provenience information for any artifact or group of artifacts in the North Carolina Archaeological Collection.
This text field contains information about the primary site context, such as surface, excavation unit, or archaeological feature, in which the artifacts in the catalog entry were found.
This text field contains information about the secondary context in which the artifacts in the catalog entry were found. This often refers to an excavation level, zone, or other context within the primary site context.
This text field specifies the quantity of items represented by a catalog entry and is a concatenation of the two data fields Num and Nnum (see below).
This numeric field specifies the number of artifacts represented by the catalog entry.
This text field is used as a qualifier for the field Num. It usually specifies a container type (e.g., bottle, box, can, jar, or vial) when the artifact or sample count is quantified as number of containers rather than individual specimens. It also may qualify the accuracy of the artifact count as “approx.” or “plus”.
This text field provides a simple description (e.g., chipped stone projectile points, potsherds, or glass beads) of the artifacts represented by the catalog entry. The description sometimes is accompanied by a weight in grams or ounces.
This text field indicates the size of the screen (dry screen or water screen) used to recover the artifacts represented by the catalog entry. Screen size was systematically recorded only after 1983; sizes include 3/4”, 1/2”, 1/4”, 1/8”, 1/16”, and 1/32”.
This text field identifies the artifact class represented by the catalog entry, as indicated by the designator in the Specimen Number.
This text field identifies the raw material of the artifacts represented by the catalog entry.
This text field provides a standardized description for the catalog entry.
This text field identifies artifacts and other objects in the Specimen Catalog that have been lost, discarded, reburied, repatriated, or transferred to another institution.
This numeric field is a primary sort key.
The North Carolina Archaeological Collection contains more than 60,000 photographs, including many photographs of items in the collection. Digital copies of these photographs reside in the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR) at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A search of the online catalog will also look for photographs of items in the search results, and these will be displayed as small thumbnail images. When you click on one of these images, your browser will open a new window displaying the CDR page relevant to that image. If your search of the North Carolina Archaeological Collection catalog is focused primarily on images of artifacts, you may wish to search the Carolina Digital Repository directly.
The North Carolina Archaeological Collection Online Catalog is the culmination of almost three decades of work by RLA staff and students, beginning with the scanning of specimen catalogs and accession records in the late 1980s, the creation of a computer database of artifacts and photographs, and the later digitizing of the RLA’s photographic collection. The online catalog is a collaborative effort of Timothy J. Shearer, Dean Farrell, Steve Segedy, and Jill Kuhn Sexton of UNC’s University Libraries, and Vincas P. Steponaitis and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. of UNC’s Research Laboratories of Archaeology.
R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr.
April 18, 2014
Data Fields Accessible by Public and Restricted Searches of the North Carolina Archaeological Collection Online Catalog.1
|Data Field||Basic Search Result||Full Record Information||Basic Search Result (Restricted)||Full Record Information (Restricted)||Map Search Full Record Information (Restricted)||Records Download|
|Collection Start Date||*||x||*||x||*||*|
|Collection End Date||*||x||*||x||*||*|
|Category||*||x (at top left)||*||x (at top left)||*||x|
1Restricted searches, available to RLA staff only through login to the catalog, provide access to restricted fields containing specific information about site locations.