Thursday, December 15, 2016

Native American Charnel Houses

At the time of first contact with Europeans, the Algonkians of coastal North Carolina had distinctive burial practices. Ossuaries, or mass graves containing large numbers of individuals, have been excavated on Hatteras Island and at other coastal locations. Prior to burial, the dead were stored in pole and mat structures called charnel houses. To date, no ossuaries or charnel houses have been discovered on Ocracoke Island.

John White, artist and mapmaker, who in 1585 sailed with Richard Grenville to present-day North Carolina in an attempt to establish a military colony on Roanoke Island, made this watercolor in 1585/1586. 

The text above the drawing reads, "The Tombe of their Cherounes or cheife personages, their flesh clene taken of from the bones saue | the skynn and heare of theire heads, wch flesh is dried and enfolded in matts laide at theire | feete. their bones also being made dry, ar couered wth deare skynns not altering | their forme or proportion. With theire Kywash, which is an | Image of woode keeping the deade. "

Our current Ocracoke Newsletter is a 1938 article about Capt. Gary Bragg, waterfowl hunting, and wooden decoy carving. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous10:26 AM

    Well, perhaps all this preparation of the body of the deceased could transmit the Ebola of the day to those undertakers of the tribe and everyone else. Thus causing the "Lost Colony" of Roanoke. Also, I wonder how these folks said Hello.

  2. Anonymous5:41 PM

    no wonder why they were not thought of as being civilized.