site revealing Monacan history
1607, Capt. John Smith, the Englishman who helped establish James
Fort (the Jamestown colony), was told of a warlike and uncivilized
people who lived to the west of the tidewater: the Monacans.
never encountered the Monacan people, but he went on to write
about them based upon what his party had been told by the local
Powhatan Indians, describing their "very barbarous living
for the most part of wild beests and fruits. . ." The Powhatans
said that the Monacans were an unsophisticated, rude and warring
people who hunted and did not know how to grow corn. They warned
Smith not to venture into Monacan territory. He didn't know to
question his sources. In 1612, Smith drew a map of the territory,
based on what he was told, and showed the location of Monasukapanough,
a Monacan village. The likely remains of that village are located
on the south fork of the Rivanna River, just north of Charlottesville.
Recent testing of artifacts from the site and collection of radiocarbon
dates confirm that the village thrived with an active population
during the time of Smith's arrival in the New World, and they
were more like the Powhatans than different.
detail from John Smith's map of 1612 shows the Monacan village
of Monasukapanough (top right corner). Hantman will conduct
a dig this summer at the site, on the south fork of the Rivanna
River, near Charlottesville.
is the first time we are certain that we are looking at a Monacan
village that is contemporary with the early colonial period,"
says Jeffrey L. Hantman, associate professor of anthropology and
director of the archaeology program. "We have found evidence
of a sophisticated, well structured society that lived along the
Rivanna River at the time Smith was settling the tidewater region.
What we now know is not at all consistent with the description
that Smith provided of the Monacans, based on what he was told
by the Powhatans."
plans a detailed excavation of the site this summer, which is
located on land owned by developer Charles W. Hurt. Hurt recently
leased about 20 acres of the property to the Soccer Organization
of Charlottesville and Albemarle. Some of the site will be preserved
as a permanent archeological site, and the rest will eventually
become part of the athletic facilities and soccer fields after
Hantman and other archaeologists have conducted their study.
is a great example of many people and communities working together
to understand a shared history," Hantman says.
(at right) teaching U.Va. archaeology students at a small
Monacan site located near Ivy, Virginia.
June 12, the archeological site will be open during the day for
students and other visitors.
public will benefit, as will researchers, historians, and most
importantly, the Monacan people, who will gain a greater understanding
of their culture during the time of European colonization."
Monacan people, most of whom live in Amherst County, are presently
seeking federal recognition as a native tribe. Hantman says excavation
of the site will open a window to a time frame that was lost to
the layer cake of archaeology, where history is buried on top
of history, we are able to travel beyond the inaccurate written
record of the colonial period, to reach the point of truth,"
Hantman says. "The truth is, the Monacans were a different
society, but very much like the Powhatans, and also very powerful."
Monacans were, in 1607, the Powhatans' enemy, Hantman says, and
this may explain why they were portrayed as barbaric. The Powhatans
did not want Smith's group to become trading partners with their
had brought with him many things from Europe, including copper,
a metal highly prized by Powhatan chiefs. In return for this metal,
Hantman believes, the Smith party was able to develop cordial
relations with the Powhatans, and to establish what became the
first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Europeans' survival depended on the goodwill of the native people,"
Hantman says. "Jamestown was established because the Powhatans
allowed the settlement."
believes that the Monacans, located in the Piedmont region between
the mountains and the tidewater, were in a position of power because
they controlled the distribution of copper from deposits in the
mountains. The Powhatans were in a weak bargaining position until
the Europeans arrived.
rivalries may have been the very reason the English were able
to establish a stronghold in the New World," Hantman says.
"The results have affected world history. We are now finding
clues through archaeology that explain circumstances the colonists