Note: The following information is from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and used with permission.
Some archaeologists use the concept of "cultural and natural areas" to explain further how the distinct cultures of the era came about. According to their theory, the environment in which a society settled presented a particular setting and the people made choices within that setting. Without external forces, a culture was inclined to change slowly once it adjusted to a setting. It was also inclined to spread over an entire area before expanding to a different environment. In Virginia, the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and mountain regions created distinct natural areas. Cultures spread along the major rivers and streams that flowed within and between each province. Because pieces of the information puzzle are missing, much of the group variation across Virginia has not been fully described nor individual cultures defined.
The people of southwestern Virginia formed tribal cultures very similar to the groups in the southern Piedmont of Virginia. They made a wide array of pottery tempered with sand, limestone, or shell, and impressed with cord and net. Their homes, about 15 to 20 feet in diameter, were constructed of multiple poles anchored deep into the ground. The tops of the poles were bent over and tied to form a dome-shaped house. The houses were covered with either thatch or bark and clustered around a plaza in the center of a walled village. Daily life was based on intensive gardening, supplemented with gathering wild plants and hunting animals.
The Virginia Indians used trees made into poles as the frame of the house. They dug holes to put the big end of the pole into. After that they filled the rest of the hole with dirt. Then they bent the top of the poles and tied them together. The Indian houses were often built under trees so the hot sun of the summer and the cold snow of the winter were kept off by the big trees. The roof of the house was curved into an arch. Vines, roots, and strips of bark were used for string to tie things on the house. They had a hole in the roof that used as a chimney for the fire they built inside. The Indians in the houses were always warm and dry during the cold winters.
Typical of the Iroquoian type of town was the village of the Nottoway, which William Byrd visited in 1728. A strong palisade, about 10 feet high, surrounded a quadrangle dotted with long communal 'cabins . . . arched at the top, and covered with bark.' Inside there was no furniture except 'hurdles' for repose. The fortification served as a place of refuge for members of the tribe living in outlying districts. The towns of the Siouan tribes were similar. Within the inclosure of those that were palisaded stood the prominent round 'town house' surrounded by the 'arbour-like' dwellings of the people. The Cherokee towns spread out along the banks of mountain streams or in a valley. Close by the dwellings of logs chinked with clay stood a conical earth-covered lodge known as the'winter hot house.' On an artificial mound in the center of the village was the large oblong 'council house,' center of all tribal ceremonies.
The Siouan Indians of 'Sapponey Town,' visited by Byrd in 1728, had probably varied little since early days in their traditional wardress. With 'feathers in their hair and run through their ears, their faces painted with blue and vermilion, their hair cut in many forms,' they were 'really . . . very terrible.' Both men and women greased their bodies and heads with bear's oil or walnut oil mixed with paint, either of, which yielded an 'ugly smell.' The 'Sweating-houses,' little huts built with wattles, were also tribal survivals. Heated by red-hot pebbles, they were used by sick Indians to sweat out maladies, 'a remedy . . . for all distempers.' The handicrafts were exclusively woman's province -- the making of wooden dishes and trays, 'earthern pottes' and the thread spun from 'barks of trees, deare sinews, or a kind of grasse they call Pemmenaw,' which was used variously as 'lines for angles," nets for fishing,' sewing the deerskin mantles, and the making of baskets and 'aprons . . . women wear about their middles, for decency's sake.' In their monotheistic religion, according to Lederer, the Indians worshiped-Okee, called also Mannilk, the 'creator of all things.' 'To him alone the high priest or Periku 'offered sacrifices. 'The government of mankind' was assigned to 'lesser deities, as Quiacosough and Tagkanysough--that is, good and evil spirits.' Smith, however, says 'their chief God' was 'the Devil, him they call Okee.' Burial customs varied among the different tribes. Within most of the temples were the image of Okee and the sepulchers of kings.
Today, along the shores of Chesapeake Bay and the banks of many of its tributaries are heaps of oyster shells, containing bits of pottery and stone implements, which mark the position of many ancient Algonquian settlements, some having flourished long after 1607. Westward, along the valley of the James from the falls to the mountains, in the section once dominated by the Siouan tribes, are traces of their village and campsites on the banks of streams, where fragments of pottery and stone implements are scattered over the surface. The same district contains soapstone quarries and occasionally a macabre ossuary. In the Rappahannock-Rapidan area most of the mortars, long cylindrical pestles, hammers, discoidal stones, and pipes have been garnered; but occasionally axes, projectile points, and bits of pottery are brought to the surface by freshets or turned up by the plow.Information for this housing section also came from American Studies at the University of Virginia: Indians .