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Preceded by
Ohio Hopewell
Fort Ancient culture
1000 CE-1650CE
Succeeded by
Historical Period
Map of the Archaeological Cultures of Ohio

Fort Ancient is a name for a Native American culture that flourished from 1000-1650 C.E. among a people who predominantly inhabited land along the Ohio River in areas of southern modern-day Ohio, northern Kentucky and western West Virginia. The Fort Ancient culture was once thought to have been an expansion of the Mississippian cultures. It is now accepted as an independently developed culture descended from the Hopewell culture (100 BCE-CE 500), also a Mound Builder people.

The name of the culture originates from the Fort Ancient, Ohio site which they used. The Fort Ancient Site is now thought to have been built by the Hopewell. It was likely occupied later by the Fort Ancient culture. The fort is located on a hill above the Little Miami River, close to Lebanon, Ohio. Despite its name, most archaeologists do not believe that Fort Ancient was used primarily as a fortress by either the Ohio Hopewell culture or the Fort Ancient culture; it was more likely to have been a ceremonial location.[1]


Archaeological record

Serpent Mound, Peebles, Ohio
A piece of pottery from a Fort Ancient site in Ohio

The Fort Ancient culture emerges around 1400 CE as local Late Woodland populations in the Middle Ohio region begin relying more on agriculture. A rise in socio-political complexity may indicate influences from the Middle Mississippian culture area down the Ohio River from the Fort Ancient culture, but the differences in ceramics show they were a culture distinct from that of the Middle Mississippian-era peoples.[2]

Fort Ancient villages were located along terraces that overlooked rivers and sometimes were located on flood plains. Settlements were composed of circular and/or rectangular homes facing an oval shaped plaza. During the Early and Middle Fort Ancient period, the houses were designed as single-family dwellings. Later Fort Ancient buildings are large multi-family dwellings. The arrangement of buildings in Fort Ancient settlements is thought to have served as a sort of solar calendar, marking the positions of the solstices and other significant dates.[3] Settlements were rarely permanent, usually being shifted to a new location after one or two generations when the resources surrounding the old village were exhausted. The plaza was the center of village life and was a place where ceremonies, games (such as chunkey)[4] , and other social events were held. During late Fort Ancient times, the people enclosed their villages with stockades, which may show an increase in the level of conflict. Such conflict may have accounted for the eventual decline of Fort Ancient culture.[5]

The Fort Ancient people may have built the largest effigy mound in the United States, Serpent Mound, according to new carbon dating of charcoal found underneath the mound.[6][7] The Fort Ancient were primarily a farming and hunting people. Their diet was composed mainly of the three sistersmaize, squash, and beans – supplemented with hunting and fishing in nearby forests and rivers. The Fort Ancient people are noted for their earthen structures, triangular arrow points and pentagonal flint knives. SunWatch Indian Village is a recreated Fort Ancient Native American village that is located in Dayton, Ohio. Many archaeological excavations were done here at the park which has revealed much about the Fort Ancient people.

Social hierarchy

Fort Ancient settlements lacked political centralization and elite social structures. Although individuals might have risen to the status of leader, Fort Ancient culture appears to have been egalitarian. Grave goods rarely vary between individuals, which shows that social levels were weakly defined. It is thought that their societies were organized into groups (maybe tribes) based on kinship. If social organization was based on kinship, then it is likely that one's status was the result of personal qualities such as sharing/giving, being a good hunter or food provider, charisma, etc. Sometimes, one person might achieve high status. Such high-status people were probably leaders of communities and were potentially responsible for organizing trade, for settling disputes among other members of the village, and for presiding over ceremonies (Pollack and Henderson 1992).[4]


Uncertainty surrounds the eventual fate of the Fort Ancient people. Most likely their society, like the Mississippian culture to the south, was severely disrupted by waves of epidemics from the very first Spanish explorers in the 16th century.[8] There is a gap in the archaeological record between the most recent Fort Ancient sites and the oldest sites of the Shawnee, who occupied the area at the time of later European (French and English) explorers. However, it is generally accepted that similarities in material culture, art, mythology, and Shawnee oral history linking them to the Fort Ancients can be used to establish the shift of Fort Ancient society into historical Shawnee society.[9] Although debated from results of modern field work on the culture's many Phases and Complexes across this region by local university scholars, the Shawnee derive from the Mississippi culture #Related modern nations despite known historical acculturations with various tribes.

See also


External links



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