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The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures is to the time from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part of North America. The term Woodland was applied in the 1930s and describes prehistoric sites between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures.

This period is considered a developmental stage without any massive changes in a short period, but instead having a continuous development in stone and bone tools, leather working, textile manufacture, tool production, cultivation, and shelter construction. Some Woodland peoples continued to use spears and atlatls until the end of the period, when they were replaced by bows and arrows.

The major technological advancement during this period was the widespread use of pottery (the origin of which began in the late Archaic period) and the increasing sophistication of its forms and decoration. The increasing use of agriculture also meant that the nomadic nature of many of the tribes was supplanted by permanently occupied villages, although agricultural development did not really advance until the Mississippian period.


Early Woodland Period (1000–1 BCE), Deptford Phase

Also known as the Deptford culture, it is a period historically marking the introduction of pottery serving as the demarcation of the Woodland period, first believed to have occurred around 1000 BCE. Later research indicated that a fiber-tempered horizon of ceramics greatly predates 1000 BCE, first appearing about 2500 BCE in parts of Florida and Georgia. Nevertheless, these early sites were typical Archaic settlements, differing only in the use of basic ceramic technology. As such, researchers are now redefining the period to begin with not only pottery, but the appearance of permanent settlements, elaborate burial practices, intensive collection and/or horticulture of starchy seed plants, differentiation in social organization, and specialized activities, among other factors. Most of these are evident in the Southeastern United States by 1000 BCE. The Adena culture is the best-known early Woodland culture. In some areas, like South Carolina and coastal Georgia, Deptford pottery persists until ca. 700 CE. Most settlements are located near the coast, often near salt marshes. Acorns and palm berries were eaten, as well as wild grapes and persimmon. The most common prey was white-tailed deer. Shellfish formed an important part of the diet, and numerous coastal middens are known. After 100 BCE, burial mounds were built, which is taken to indicate social change.[1]

Middle Woodland Period (1 to 500 CE), Hopewell, Swift Creek Culture

The Swift Creek culture lasted from 1 to 400; the Santa Rosa culture, in Western Florida, from 150 to 500. The beginning of the Middle Woodland saw a shift of settlement to the Interior.

As the Woodland period progressed, local and interregional trade of exotic materials greatly increased to the point where a trade network covered most of the Eastern United States. Throughout the Southeast and north of the Ohio River, burial mounds of important persons were very elaborate and contained a variety of mortuary gifts, many of which were not local to the area. The most archaeological visible area of burial ceremonialism during this time was in the areas from Illinois to Ohio, and is known as the Hopewell tradition. Because of the similarity of earthworks and burial goods, researchers assume a common body of religious practice and cultural interaction existed throughout the entire region (also referred to as a Hopewellian Interaction Sphere).

However, this could also be viewed as the result of reciprocal trade, obligations, or both between local clans that controlled specific territories. Access to food or resources outside a clan's territory would be made possible through formal agreements with neighbors. Clan heads would then be buried along with goods received from their trading partners to symbolize the relationships they had established. Under this scenario, permanent settlements would be likely to develop, leading to increased agricultural production and a population increase.

Although many of the Middle Woodland cultures are called "Hopewellian", and despite the shared ceremonial practices, separate cultures have been identified during the Middle Woodland period. Examples include the Swift Creek culture, the Kansas City Hopewell, the Marksville culture, the Havana Hopewell culture and the Copena culture.

The Center for American Archeology specializes in Middle Woodland Culture.

Late Woodland Period (500 to 1000 CE)

The late Woodland period was a time of apparent population dispersal, although populations do not appear to have decreased. In most areas construction of burial mounds decreased drastically, as well as long-distance trade in exotic materials. At the same time, bow and arrow technology gradually overtook the use of the spear and atlatl, and agricultural production of the "Three Sisters" (maize, beans, and squash) was introduced. While full scale intensive agriculture did not begin until the following Mississippian period, the beginning of serious cultivation greatly supplemented the gathering of plants. Late Woodland settlements became more numerous, but the size of each one (with exceptions) was smaller than their middle Woodland counterparts.

The reasons for this are unknown, but it has been theorized that populations increased so much that trade alone could no longer support the communities and some clans resorted to raiding others for resources. Alternatively, the efficiency of bows and arrows in hunting may have decimated the large game animals, forcing the tribes to break apart into smaller clans to better use local resources, thus limiting the trade potential of each group. A third possibility is a colder climate may have affected food yields, possibly affected by Northern Hemisphere extreme weather events of 535–536, also limiting trade possibilities. Lastly, it may be that agricultural technology became sophisticated enough that crop variation between clans lessened, thereby decreasing the need for trade.

As communities became more isolated, they began to develop in their own unique ways, giving rise to small-scale cultures that were distinctive to their regional areas.

Although the 1000 CE ending of the Late Woodland period is traditional, in practice many regions of the Eastern Woodlands adopted the full Mississippian culture much later than that. Some groups in the north and northeast of the current United States, such as the Iroquois, retained a way of life that was technologically identical to the Late Woodland until the arrival of Europeans. Furthermore, despite the widespread adoption of the bow and arrow during this time period, the peoples of a few areas of the United States appear never to have made the change. During Hernando de Soto's travels through the southern United States around 1543, the groups at the mouth of the Mississippi river still preferentially used the spear.

See also


  1. ^ Milanich 1994:111-41




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