Assateague's first visitors were small bands of nomadic Indians who had permanent settlements on the mainland. These hunters and gatherers came seasonally to the island to enjoy the rich harvest of waterfowl, fish, oysters, clams, and plant foods.
Little is known about the life of these early people. Local tribes such as the Pocomoke, Nanticoke, Gingoteague, and Assateague were loosely part of the Algonquin-speaking Indian family, but each had its own unique culture.
Life Along the Coast
Though not much is known about the customs, dwellings, or even dress of the different Indian groups, many scientists think they had a "good" life - abundant food, few diseases, and enough natural resources to meet their needs. Shellfish were preserved by smoking and plant foods were dried.
Deer and bear provided skins for clothing. Even the clamshell was useful. The inner purple coloring was used as barter.
It is probably that life along these shores remained relatively unchanged for almost 12,000 years. Within 200 years of European contact, most Indians had left the area.
Some local Indians, including the Assateague tribe, had an unusual burial custom. They removed the skin from the body after death and scraped the bones free of flesh. Remains were then placed on shelves in a log structure. Periodically, the remains were collected and buried in a common grave or ossuary. Several ossuaries have been discovered on the Eastern Shore. The photo above shows a burial site in North Carolina, which was relocated to save it from coastal erosion.