Indian Museum: Carolina Bays

Native American camps on the sandy rims of Carolina Bays were some of the earliest sites for nomadic hunter/gatherers and later more permanent villages in our region. Also called “pocosin” which is the Indian word for “swamp on a hill”, Carolina Bays are elliptical or oval depressions of uncertain origin found mostly in North and South Carolina. They are considered to be a freshwater wetlands. The bay’s depression fills with rainwater, usually in winter and spring, and dries in the summer months. However during wetter periods of climatic history, Carolina Bays were often large permanent natural lakes.

Carolina Bays (which again are depressions, not ocean inlets), have high sand ridges and low, swampy interiors. They got their name from the fact that many of them are dense with an abundance of bay trees. Carolina Bays vary in size from smaller than an acre to over 2,000 acres. Most of the bays are in the Cape Fear region of North and South Carolina.

All Carolina Bays are oriented in a northwest-southeast, shoreline-perpendicular direction and parallel to one another. Their origin is unknown, and includes Indian folklore (and some scientific perspective), that they were a result of a giant comet or meteor shower.

Indian life around the Carolina Bay included subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting, as well as rituals, shelter construction, preparing food, and care of the young and elderly.