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A Culture History of North America. With a particular focus on the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods of the Midwest and East. General Timeline. Paleoindian (18,000-10,000 B.P.) Archaic (10,000-3,000 B.P.) Woodland (3,000-1,000 B.P.)

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a culture history of north america

A Culture History of North America

With a particular focus on the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods of the Midwest and East

general timeline
General Timeline
  • Paleoindian (18,000-10,000 B.P.)
  • Archaic (10,000-3,000 B.P.)
  • Woodland (3,000-1,000 B.P.)
    • Northeast continues in the Woodland tradition until contact.
  • Mississippian (1,000-500 B.P.)
    • In Midwest and Southeast
  • Early Paleoindian (18,000-11,750 B.P.)
    • Meadowcroft Rockshelter, PA
    • Monte Verde, Chile
  • Middle Paleoindian (11,750-10,900 B. P.)
    • Clovis Culture/Clovis Fluted Projectile points
    • Clovis, NM
  • Late Paleoindian (10,900-10,000 B.P.)
    • End of fluted point tradition
    • Many more sites- such as Dust Cave, AL
  • Ends with the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age
meadowcroft rockshelter
Meadowcroft Rockshelter


meadowcroft rockshelter5
Meadowcroft Rockshelter

View of the excavations where the Paleoindian materials were recovered.


monte verde chile7
Monte Verde, Chile


monte verde chile8
Monte Verde, Chile

Fiber cordage

Grooved Mastodon tusk

tent stakes from monte verde
Tent Stakes from Monte Verde


archaic period 10 000 3 000 b p
Archaic Period10,000-3,000 B.P.
  • Begins with start of Holocene climatic period (global warming)
  • Characterized by more generalized foraging.
    • Hunting deer, other mammals, greater reliance on plant resources.
  • Still fairly mobile lifestyle.
  • More variable stone tools.
early archaic 10 000 8 000 b p
Early Archaic 10,000-8,000 B.P.
  • As the climate changed, the mastodon, the last of the large Pleistocene animals, became extinct and other animals such as bison, caribou, and moose moved away.
  • People now hunted deer, elk, bear, turkey, and small game such as rabbit and fox. As the vegetation became profuse, they gathered more plant foods such as fruit, acorns, and hickory nuts.  
  • The people of the Archaic period began to vary the size and shape of their lithic (stone) points.
  • Stone spear points, knives, scrapers, gravers, and drills were still used.


early archaic artifacts lifestyle
Early Archaic Artifacts & Lifestyle

Projectile points

Reconstruction of Early Archaic camp


early archaic at koster il
Early Archaic at Koster, IL


middle archaic 8000 4500 b p
Middle Archaic 8000-4500 B.P.
  • Tools that archaeologists find to be more common during this time period are mortars and pestles. These tools were used to crush nuts, seeds, and fibrous plants in preparing foods. People added walnuts to the list of seed crops harvested.
  • Notched stones found at archaeological sites are interpreted as net sinkers. They indicate that the people expanded their quest for food by catching large numbers of fish in nets.
  • The people of the Eastern forest started to produce in large quantities chipped stone axes around 6,000 B.P. The axes were made from tough resilient stone, such as basalt and quartzite. With large axes, the Middle Archaic people could more easily cut wood to build houses and make fires.


middle archaic artifacts
Middle Archaic Artifacts

Mortar and pestle



late archaic 4500 3000 b p
Late Archaic (4500-3000 B.P.)
  • People began to cultivate native plant species, including sunflowers, gourds, sumpweed/marsh elder, maygrass, lambsquarter/goosefoot, and amaranth.
  • These were plants that appeared in the clearings created by humans with the axe invented in the Middle Archaic period.
  • People also started to raise varieties of squash that were brought from what is now Mexico where squash was first developed.
  • People were also living in larger, more settled communities.
late archaic poverty point
Late Archaic: Poverty Point


poverty point earthworks
Poverty Point Earthworks
  • A C-shaped figure dominates the center of the site.
    • The figure is formed by 6 concentric artificial earth embankments. They are separated by ditches, or swales, where dirt was removed to build the ridges. The ends of the outermost ridge are 1,204 meters apart (nearly 3/4 of a mile). The ends of the interior embankment are 594 meters apart.
  • If the ridges were straightened and laid end to end, they would comprise an embankment 12 kilometers or 7 1/2 miles in length.
  • Originally, the ridges stood 4 to 6 feet high and 140 to 200 feet apart. Many years of plowing have reduced some to only one foot in height. Archeologists suspect that the homes of 500 to 1,000 inhabitants were located on these ridges.
  • The ridges are intersected by avenues that seem to align with summer and winter solstice points.


poverty point plan view
Poverty Point Plan View


woodland 3 000 1 000 b p
Woodland (3,000-1,000 B.P.)
  • Increased sedentary living and higher populations.
  • More cultures growing native plants first domesticated in the late Archaic
    • Sumpweed, maygrass, sunflower, gourds, squash
  • Increase use of pottery
  • Mound building expands, particularly burial and effigy mounds
early woodland
Early Woodland
  • Adena (3000-1900 B.P.)
    • The Adena complex was a mortuary-ceremonial complex centered in the central Ohio Valley that was shared by many local cultures.
    • Earlier Adena burial centers are marked by a basically egalitarian burial program, utilitarian grave goods, and smaller earthen burial mounds.
grave creek mound
Grave Creek Mound


middle woodland
Middle Woodland
  • Hopewell (2200-1600 B.P.)
    • The most spectacular archaeological evidence of this climax is associated with the Hopewell phenomenon in the heartland of the culture area. The most spectacular Hopewell ceremonial sites are in the Sciota Valley near Chillicothe, Ohio.
    • These religious and political centers typically contain a burial mound and geometric earthwork complex that covers 10 to hundreds of acres and sparse; evidence of large resident populations is lacking. Larger mounds can be up to 12 m high, 150 m long, and 55 m wide.
    • Multiple mortuary structures under the mounds were often log tombs that contained the remains of skeletons that had been cremated, bundled, or interred in some other manner.
serpent mound
Serpent Mound

The most famous of all such (effigy) mounds is the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County, 1,330 feet in length along its coils and averaging three feet in height.


mound city ohio aerial photo
Mound City, Ohio Aerial photo


middle woodland hopewell culture
Middle Woodland: Hopewell Culture

Copper Art

Effigy pipes

late woodland northeastern sites
Late Woodland: Northeastern Sites
  • Northeastern cultures continued in the Late Woodland tradition.
  • Long Houses, large populations.
  • Corn, Beans and squash horticulture by 1200 A.D.
  • Some site with palisades (wooden walls) constructed around them.
village reconstruction
Village Reconstruction



Pendant with turtle

Flaked stone hoe

mississippian 1000 500 b p
Mississippian (1000-500 B.P.)
  • Height of complexity in Midwest and southeastern North America.
  • Centralized governments, large “city-states”.
  • Flat-topped mounds.
  • Elaborate burial mounds.
mississippian sites etowah
Mississippian Sites: Etowah

Etowah Mound and Statues, GA


moundville al
Moundville, AL


cahokia il
Cahokia, IL


monks mound cahokia
Monks Mound-Cahokia

Largest North American structure


Burial & Status: Cahokia Mound 72

The wood dates to approximately 1000 A.D.   272 burials were discovered in mound 72.

Burials without litters

Burials with litters


Mound 72

Headless Burials

Female Burial Pit (53 between 15 and 30)


Mississippian Ceramics

Human Effigy




Shell Ornaments

Spider Gorget

Shell Mask

Priest/Warrior Gorget


Lithic Artifacts

Monolithic Axe

Duck River Cache, TN

the final chapter
The Final Chapter?
  • Most mounds sites were abandoned by the time Europeans arrived.
  • Other groups were decimated by disease and warfare.
  • Some groups, like the Iroquois confederacy, faired pretty well, but most were forced off their lands.
  • Finally, the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830.
    • Under these treaties, the Indians were to give up their lands east of the Mississippi in exchange for lands to the west. Those wishing to remain in the east would become citizens of their home state.
    • However, this disintegrated and many were forcibly removed during the “Trail of Tears”, where many southern tribes were forcibly removed in 1838.
  • Many groups strive to maintain their traditions and culture.
  • These groups maintain a rich tradition of oral history, art, and music.
  • Traditional languages are still spoken and taught to the younger generations.
  • Sometimes, we have the perspective that Native Americans are a thing of the past, but that is clearly not the case.