Town Creek Indian Mound
509 Town Creek Mound Road, Mount Gilead. 910-439-6802; www.nchistoricsites.org/town.
This may be one of the oldest villages in North Carolina and is quite a popular attraction - despite having a population of zero.
Yet this was a bustling place 800 to 1,000 years ago, where a stockade on the banks of the Little River, a tributary of the Pee Dee, contained homes, work areas, ceremonial buildings and burial grounds of a Native American people.
Residents were part of the Pee Dee culture, a regional hub of the Mississippian "mound building" culture.
Archaeologists have been working this site since 1937, when it became a state property; some excavation work continues. You can see reconstructions of the main mound topped by a "town house," a temple structure, a burial house and the stockade.
The original log stockade had guard towers or gates on the northern and southern ends. There is evidence of five periods of stockade-building.
Inhabitants were buried in mortuary areas; 563 burials are thought to be from the time of the Pee Dee Culture. Some people were buried with copper and copper-covered artifacts; other items were fashioned from imported sea shells.
The town seems to have been gradually abandoned in the 1300s, a time when Mississippian culture elsewhere in North America declined.
The visitor center holds exhibits about the inhabitants and site research. The burial house has an exhibit explaining their burial customs and beliefs.
Get a brochure at the visitor center for a self-guided tour brochure. Individuals can ask staffers for a free, informal guided tour.
The site today is wistful - especially this time of the year, when the sun sets early. It's also intriguing: The compound, roughly two miles from N.C. 73, is lost in time.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Mondays and major holidays.
Cost: Free admission; free parking.
Target audience: History buffs, would-be time travelers of all ages.
Travel time from Charlotte: About 90 minutes.
Directions: Take N.C. 27 (Albemarle Road) east to Albemarle; follow N.C. 73 East through Mount Gilead. In about seven miles turn left on Indian Mound Road.