Browse Exhibits (12 total)

Early Historic Period Archaeology

The Early Historic Period refers to the period between about 1600 and 1700 C.E., when many Virginia Indians came into contact with European colonists.  In terms of material culture, this period was largely an extension of the Late Woodland period for Virginia Indian village communities, and people continued to produce and use objects and tools made from bone, stone, animal hide, shell, and wood. Some of these items were traded to colonists in exchange for European materials like copper, iron, and glass. These objects became part of Virginia Indian lifestyles and are found at many village archaeological sites from this time period. 

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Woodland Period Archaeology

This exhibit showcases aspects of Virginia Indian material culture during the Early, Middle, and Late Woodland periods.  The artifacts in this exhibit date from 1200 B.C.E. to 1600 C.E.  

At the end of the Late Archaic period, Virginians were dispersed foragers who led mobile lifestyles.  That began to change during the Early Woodland period, when the first ceramics were developed in Virginia, a direct result of the production of soapstone bowls in the preceding centuries. These vessels would eventually diversify and become common across the state.  As people began to cultivate foods like gourd and squash in the Middle Woodland, they more and more often stayed in the same place instead of moving to different seasonal camps.  Their homes and communities coalesced to form hamlets and villages with tribal identities.  By the time Virginian Indians came into contact with Europeans, their society formed a dense and complex political landscape that varied from region to region.  Material culture flourished and diversified to include many different types of objects, many of which are produced by Virginia Indian artisans and craftspeople today.  This exhibit shows just a fraction of the artifacts that have been found at Woodland period sites across the state.

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Paleoindian and Archaic Period Archaeology

This exhibit showcases aspects of Paleoindian and Archaic period material culture in Virginia.  These artifacts date to between 19,000 and 500 B.C.E. 

People first arrived in the Americas between 18,000 and 20,000 years ago, spreading across the continent.  North Americans then formed the widespread Clovis culture, leaving characteristic stone points at ephemeral camp sites before moving to follow large game animals.  People continued living a mobile lifestyle for a long time, and by the Late Archaic period they had formed regional trade networks along major river drainages.  The practices of Late Archaic people directly contributed to the development of soapstone-tempered ceramic technology in the Early Woodland period, leading to a sedentary lifestyle in the Middle and Late Woodland periods. 

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The Monacan Homecoming Festival

The Monacan Homecoming, held on the first Saturday of October each year, combines a family reunion with a church bazaar and bake sale, a massive buffet dinner, and the tribal scholarship auction. Youth dancers perform for the crowd as a way of honoring their heritage and acknowledging the scholarships offered to tribal members attending college.


Giving Back to the River: The Pamunkey and Mattaponi Fish Hatcheries

Native people traidionally recognize the need to give back to their environment rather than to simply take from it. When a man killed a deer, he thanked the Creator and left cornmeal at the spot. The Native peoples of Virginia have lived on its rivers for thousand of years, and they too reciprocate, returning and sustaining life in gratitude for the fishing and hunting in which they still engage.


For almost 100 years, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes have operated separate hatcheries on the rivers that bear their names, helping American shad to spawn and returning hatched fry to the rivers.


Mantle: A State Tribute to Virginia Indians

Native peoples have lived in this land we know as Virginia for thousands of years. Despite hardships brought about by the loss of their land, language, and civil rights, many Virginia tribes persisted and their members have continued to contribute to the Commonwealth through agriculture, land stewardship, teaching, military and civic service, the arts, and other avenues.

In recognition of their lasting legacy and significance, as well as to ensure that the rich and inspiring stories of our Native peoples will endure, the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission was established with the purpose of erecting a permanent monument on Capitol Square in Richmond.

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By Our Own Hands: Virginia Indian Artists

This exhibit revolves around a series of interviews conducted in 2006 with various Virginia Indian artists and performers, most of whom later participated in the Smithsonian Museum's National Folklife Festival in Washington, DC, in 2007.

Among the Virginia Indian tribes, several traditional cultural forms are still practiced, and new traditions have developed as well.  A few artists make their living solely from their art; generally speaking, however, these practices are a part-time endeavor.  Tribal artists are involved in beadwork, leather crafting, wood carving, pottery, and basket weaving.  Tribal dancing has continued as a tradition, and the Virginia Indians practice not only their own traditional dances, such as the Green Corn Dance and the Canoe Dance, but they also participate in intertribal contemporary powwow dancing as well.

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Frank G. Speck's Photographs, 1914-1942

A student of noted anthropologist Franz Boas, Frank G. Speck taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he specialized in the Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures of the northeast United States and Canada.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Speck visited Virginia tribes several times and wrote that his work there "carries me into the closest intimacy with every aspect of their life. Collections of several hundred ethnological specimens were made for the Museum [of the American Indian in New York] during this time, and photographs of the people and their activities were obtained." Many of the objects he collected are now housed at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Speck was born in Brooklyn, New York, but was a sickly child and was sent at the age of seven to live with his parents' friend, Fidelia Fielding, in Mohegan, Connecticut. She was an American Indian and the last speaker of her Algonquian language, Mohegan Pequot. From her, Speck acquired a lifelong interest in American Indians and their languages. Later he sponsored American Indian students at the University of Pennsylvania including Gladys Tantaquidgeon, a Mohegan woman. During his fieldwork with the Iroquois, he was adopted by the Seneca Nation into the Turtle Clan. Speck maintained respectful relationships with tribes from Canada to the southeastern United States.

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Jackson Davis's Photographs of Virginia Indians, 1914

Henry Jackson Davis was an educator by trade. He served as principal of public schools in Williamsburg and Marion and as superintendent of public schools in Henrico County. From 1910 until 1915 he served as State Agent for Negro Rural Schools, which required him to travel around the state inspecting—and documenting—the conditions of minority schools, including the schools for Virginia Indians.

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Reporters and Mythmakers: Depicting Virginia Indians

John White was an English artist who in 1585 accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina and who, in 1587, served as governor of a second failed expedition, which came to be known as the Lost Colony. As an artist attached to the first group of colonists, White produced watercolor portraits of Virginia Indians and scenes of their lives and activities.

A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, by Thomas Hariot, was the first book about North America to be produced by an Englishman who had actually visited the continent. Many of White's paintings were published, sometimes in altered form, by Theodor de Bry as etchings in Hariot's illustrated edition.

This exhibit demonstrates some ways in which primary sources that depict Virginia Indians were altered or manipulated to suit European tastes and purposes. Those sources remain important in helping us to understand the lives of Virginia Indians and how they were seen by Europeans.

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