Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to:

  • understand the geographic and resource differences between North, Central, and South America, and how this situation created different cultural and economic trajectories in all periods
  • characterize the general Paleoindian period, in terms of archaeological evidence and the underlying cultural mechanisms
  • explain the differences between the Paleoindian adaptation in different regions in North America and between North, Central, and South American lifeways
  • discuss environmental changes during the early Holocene and their impact on subsistence, economy, and social conditions
  • characterize the Archaic period and the economic and social changes occurring during this time
  • describe the origins of agriculture in the different regions of the Americas
  • describe the changing theories regarding agricultural origins and the evidence on which they are based
  • explain the process of domestication of plants and animals and which species were important in each region
  • explain how complex societies arose in the Archaic period in some regions, while not in others
  • discuss the theoretical controversies surrounding human use and occupation in the Amazon Basin.

Chapter Summary


North American Clovis points are similar stylistically and technologically, continent-wide, reflecting flexible, fluid social relations, fewer languages, and alliance networks, enabling scattered groups to exchange and renew ties. Gradually, new points appear, and by 10,650 bc, Clovis was replaced by regional styles. Such changes do not always relate to actual groups, but if they do, the shift may indicate settling down, less pressure to maintain contact with distant kin, and reduced scale and openness in social systems.

The Plains and Rocky Mountains

The Late Paleoindian (c. 11,000–7000 bc) displays successive complexes with distinctive points, co-evolving with increasing bison-hunting. Uncomplicated toolkits permitted efficient butchering and transport by groups who traveled far each year, perhaps to Alaska where Mesa complex artifacts (9500 bc) are similar to Plains tools. The Plains Paleoindian ended during long, severe droughts that impacted bison numbers and encouraged more use of elk, deer, rabbit, and plants.

West of the Rocky Mountains

Earlier and Late Paleoindian peoples left only a few sites in valleys near now-extinct waterways. They subsisted on plants, small mammals, fish, frogs, and waterfowl. Their generalized toolkits included knives, scrapers, burins and gravers, and projectile points, often from far-away sources, indicating mobility. Warming climate and shrinking wetlands after c. 9000 bc saw ground-stone tools for plant processing increase.

The Eastern Forests

Holocene vegetation established later here, and only a few small, ephemeral sites appear around 9500 bc, when pine woodland supported little biomass and hunters may have gone north. In the Midwest and Southeast, new largely non-overlapping projectile point types appear, signaling territoriality.

Central and South America

Evidence from Monte Verde indicates pre-Clovis occupation, and Late Paleoindian adaptations vary due to differing environments such as Amazonia, the Andes, and the Patagonian steppe. In contrast to North America, Central and South American Late Paleoindians relied greatly on plants as food, medicine and fiber. Reflecting varied resources, regional assemblages include points, scrapers and knives, bone tools, sling and bola stones, harpoons, pestles, mortars, and grinding stones.


The Archaic began at 9500 bc, but ended at different times, due to variability in the establishment of Holocene biota. A co-evolutionary relationship grew between people and their favored species, as hunting-fishing-gathering populations developed agricultural or semi-agricultural economies. Regional social, and political conditions sometimes influenced other areas, but current evidence supports regionally independent, indigenous cultural trajectories.


In Archaic Mexico (c. 9500–2500 bc) nomadic foragers domesticated plants that became important across the Americas in the long term. A long period of high mobility and low population density was followed by sedentary agricultural villages from around 1600 bc, when pottery-using people began constructing monuments. Earlier evidence for sedentism or public architecture is sparse and controversial.


The Archaic Period

Pleistocene conditions ended c. 9000 bc, but Southwestern North Americans (including northwestern Mexico), continued mobile hunting-gathering for 6000 years. Before 2500 bc Southwestern hunter-gatherers relied on large and small game and plants. Small, short-term sites have low artifact densities.

Maize, squash, and other Mexican crops spread north shortly after 2000 bc. New evidence for earlier than expected, more sedentary and organized farming necessitates new models for early agricultural spread. Agriculture may have been introduced by migrating Uto-Aztecans rather than adopted by indigenous hunter-gatherers. This remains controversial; a combination of migration and adoption may be the case.

During the 1st millennium ad the Southwest gained squashes and cotton crops. Beans, agave, amaranth, panic grass, and devil’s claw were later cultigens. More productive maize varieties may be linked to agricultural intensification, larger pithouse villages or the late 1st-millennium ad shift from pithouse to pueblo architecture. Domesticated turkey, used for meat, date to 800 bc at Tularosa and Jemez caves (New Mexico) and to 200 bc–ad 700 in Tehuacán (Mexico).


Late Paleoindian people hunted and gathered and used fibers for clothing, cordage, baskets, and nets. Weapons included spears and atlatls, but not bows and arrows. Early Archaic lifeways were similar. Earthworks were built by Southeast groups. In the Late Archaic, domesticated small-seeded plants and middens of freshwater mussels appear.

Cultivation of native, gourd-like squash dates to 6000 bc at Koster (Illinois) and to 4500–3000 bc in Maine and Pennsylvania. Gourds, perhaps traded from their native Gulf of Mexico, may have served as fishnet floats, rattles, utensils, and containers. Sunflower, sumpweed (oil plants), and chenopod, native seed-bearing plants, were modified during the Middle and Late Archaic and could no longer reproduce naturally. The first two were domesticated by c. 2500 bc, and the third after 2000 bc. By 1300 bc, cultigen-sized sunflower, sumpweed, and squash seeds are documented in storage contexts. Knotweed and maygrass were also soon stored.

The earliest ceramics date to c. 2500 bc in Georgia and South Carolina. They developed not where crop production was occurring but where hunter-gatherers increasingly harvested and processed wild foods.

Early Woodland Period

By c. 1000 bc the eastern agricultural complex appeared in the Midwest and mid-South at rockshelters, open sites, and caves.

Later Agricultural Developments

While Middle Woodland (c. 200 bc–ad 400) peoples in Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas were growing crops, the Deep South, Great Lakes, Northeast, and Atlantic show little farming; wild plants may have been sufficient.

Maize came from the Southwest, with the earliest secure eastern North American dates between ad 1 and 600 (Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee) with small amounts at sites already growing chenopod, sunflower, and maygrass. Slightly higher frequencies come from Midwest, Ozark, and Arkansas River sites, ad 400–800.

In the 9th and 10th centuries ad, maize production intensified in the American Bottom, where the Cahokia chiefdom would soon arise. Tobacco, used ceremonially and medicinally, primarily by men, dates to the early 1st millennium ad (Illinois) but smoking pipes indicate earlier presence.


Hunter-gatherers moved seasonally within territories; plants provided food, medicine, and fibers and were cultivated but not domesticated. Large and small animals were hunted, and Late Archaic landscapes were managed with fire.

California and the Pacific Northwest societies were supported by fishing, hunting, gathering and trading. After 3500 bc, social complexity rose, and clear sedentism, territorial competition, hierarchical ranking, and conflict postdate 1300 bc, with greater population densities, and social stratification than farming counterparts.

Great Plains Bison Hunting

Bison hunting continued into Early Archaic times. Small bands made large-scale autumn kills to survive colder, wetter, harsher winters: meat could be stored frozen. Warm-weather sites, such as Barton Gulch (Montana) yielded 36 edible plant species and small game. Hotter and drier Middle Archaic conditions impacted grasslands and bison numbers, forcing people to hunt new species with new strategies. In the Late Archaic, climate ameliorated and hunting of reestablished bison herds resumed. Jumps, ambushes, and traps were revived, and the bison pound appeared.

The Pacific Northwest Maritime Cultures

Early Archaic, marine-based economies developed with line-fishing and sea mammal hunting, in the Middle Archaic shellfishing and net and weir-fishing were added. Reliable resources created long-term demographic stability around 6500 bc. Elite social status markers appear by 4000 BC. Competition precipitated warfare by 2500 BC; slavery and the potlatch are clearly founded in this period.

The Great Basin

The Desert Archaic begins about 7000 bc. Hogup and Danger caves preserve wood, hide, feathers, and vegetable fibers, resulting from activities between 8000 bc and ad 1400, as people exploited marshes and lakes for fowl and native plants.

The Archaic Period in California

Early Archaic hunters broadened their hunting subsistence base with marine resources, adding plants in the Middle Archaic. Burials signify more sedentism. By 4500 bc, the Late Archaic, acorns, nuts, and salmon became staples. Increased populations created substantial settlements at winter beach camps and summer hill camps.


The Isthmus of Panama acted as a “bottleneck” on north–south movement. Small early Archaic campsites left by hunter-gatherers are similar to Paleoindian occupations. Landscape management by burning occurs after 9000 bc. Later sites incorporate cultivated squashes, bottle gourd, and other domesticates.

The North Pacific Coast

Colombia and Ecuador’s tropical coastal forests provide little Early Archaic evidence. Middle Archaic inhabitants exploited mixed terrestrial and maritime resources. Maize appears around 2200–1900 bc, as a ceremonial plant. The Late Archaic saw rapid growth of more complex, sedentary societies, practicing agriculture, shellfishing, and fishing. Ceramics appeared between 4500 and 3500 bc at large villages with ritual mounds.

The Peruvian Coast

The Early Archaic Paijan complex is seen at sites on the Pampa de los Fósiles. Shellfishing began at 10,200 bc later joined by fishing, terrestrial and marine mammal hunting with stone harpoons. Maritime economies expanded during the Middle and Late Archaic.

The Chilean Coast

People used opportunistic, low-tech methods in rich coastal areas and more sophisticated skills and tools to exploit resources beyond the inter-tidal zone. Residents were semi-nomadic, using coastal and inland resources and trading with highlanders. Middle Archaic sites include the Chinchorro culture of specialized maritime villagers. Their practice of mummification, the oldest in the world, dates between 6000 and 1700 bc. Plant foods increased after c. 5000 bc, with domesticates appearing in the Late Archaic.

Southern Chile and Southern Argentina

The earliest ephemeral fishing settlements appear c. 9000–8000 bc in Tierra del Fuego. Coastal, marine-focused semi-nomadic peoples lived in circular, hide-covered huts and used canoes by Middle Archaic times. In Patagonia, guanaco was the main focus.


Inhabitants hunted and collected plants, initially reducing risk through mobility and seasonal migration, later through exchange and storage.

The Americas were impoverished in terms of varieties of animal species that could be domesticated. South American domestic animals included llama (meat, hides, dung, transport), alpaca (meat, wool), guinea pig (meat, ritual), and muscovy duck (meat, eggs). Early potato and ullucu were recently reevaluated. Earliest dates for beans, cotton, and tomato are 3000–2200 bc, redated from earlier estimates of 8000–6500 bc.


Betty Meggers argued that tropical rainforest environmental conditions limit habitation to low density, short-term occupations. Donald Lathrap and Anna Roosevelt call this ecological determinism, arguing that carrying capacities are underestimated. Rainforest conditions make archaeology difficult. Roosevelt’s site Pedra Pintada (Brazil), in the Early Archaic, c. 8500 bc, housed small nomadic forager-hunter groups. Occupation levels from 6800–5700 bc contain pottery.

In uplands, people hunted small animals with atlatls, bolas, and stone axes, and collected palm nuts and other plants. By the late Middle Archaic, small habitation mounds appear. After 4500 bc diet broadened and population increased. Some hunted on open savannahs, while others were fisher-gatherers along rivers. After 4000–3500 BC, large villages with ceramics appeared.


Early Archaic people fished and shellfished by 9000–8000 bc. The Middle and Late Archaic periods (6000–1500 BC) are characterized by maritime intensification and sambaqui (shell mounds), with village clusters of 30–40 houses after 3500 bc, with nearby cemeteries. Totemic sculptures appear after c. 2500 bc.

Dolores Piperno and Deborah Pearsall argue from paleobotanical evidence that tropical forest domestication began by c. 8000 bc, and large-scale food production by 6000 bc; earlier than the central Mexican highlands or Andes, 5000 years before sedentism. Others estimate sedentary villages, maize and manioc cultivation at 1500 bc or later.

Box Features

Key Controversy: The Domestication of Maize

Key Discovery: The Archaic Dog

Key Discovery: The Chinchorro Mummies

Key Site: Koster: An Archaic Camp in Illinois

Key Sites: Watson Brake And Poverty Point, Louisiana

Key Sites: La Paloma And Chilca: Archaic Villages of the Peruvian Coast

Key Site: Asana: Base Camp and Herding Residence

Key Site: Caral and Notre Chico

Key words and terms


  • Clovis
  • Paleoindian
  • Late Paleoindian
  • Archaic (Early, Middle, Late)
  • Woodland


North America

  • Clovis
  • Folsom, Plainview, Goshen, Agate Basin, Hell Gap, Cody
  • bison surrounds, drives, jumps
  • generalized toolkits
  • fibers, clothing, shoes, baskets, nets, line, cordage
  • Dalton adze
  • irrigation canals
  • cerros de trincheras
  • pottery
  • stone boiling
  • direct heat
  • agriculture: larger seeds, reduced seed coat thickness, monocephaly, compact inflorescences, loss of natural shattering mechanisms.
  • marine: weirs, deep-sea hook-and-line fishing, whaling, nets


Central and South America

  • fishtail points
  • scrapers and knives, bone tools
  • sling stones and bola stones
  • nets, harpoons, pestles, mortars, and grinding stones
  • agriculture
  • pottery
  • nutting stones


North America

  • Early pan-North American culture
  • aggregation, information exchange, mating networks, alliance networks
  • regionalization, increased sedentism, populations increase, reduction in spatial scale and openness of social systems, new and different prey
  • broad spectrum vs. narrow Late Paleoindian and Archaic diets
  • increasing heterogeneity
  • agriculture introduced by migrating Uto-Aztecans vs. adoption by indigenous hunter-gatherers
  • hypsithermal

Central America

  • slow vs. rapid adoption of agriculture
  • domesticates incorporated into hunting-gathering

South America

  • no big-game hunters
  • technological convergence
  • lowland vs. highland adaptations
  • plant food reliance, mediocre stone, more sedentism
  • marine/maritime focus in many areas
  • increasing heterogeneity
  • early complex societies
  • ceremonial architecture
  • mummification
  • Andean burial tradition
  • African fishermen hypothesis
  • “lost paradise” vs. “counterfeit paradise”
  • sambaquis




  • Guilá Naquitz
  • Tehuacán Valley
  • Tamaulipas
  • Zohapilco and San Andrés

North America


  • Bat Cave
  • Tucson San Pedro phase: Milagro, Las Capas, Valley Farms, and Wetlands sites
  • Zuni Pueblo
  • Cerro Juanaqueña,
  • Tularosa and Jemez caves
  • Aucilla River; Page-Ladson
  • Little Salt Spring
  • Windover Pond
  • Modoc rockshelter
  • Koster
  • Eva
  • Icehouse Bottom
  • Phillips Spring
  • Salts Cave
  • Bacon Bend and Iddins
  • Carlston Annis Shell Mound
  • Cold Oak, Cloudsplitter, and Newt Kash, and Marble Bluff Rock Shelters
  • Horr’s Island
  • Watson Brake
  • Poverty Point
  • Barton Gulch
  • Head-Smashed-In
  • Anangula
  • Namu
  • Ozette
  • Hoko River
  • Hogup Cave
  • Danger Cave
  • Fort Rock Cave
  • Lovelock and Humboldt rockshelters
  • Santa Rosa Island
  • Windmiller Tradition
  • Woodland
  • Salts Cave
  • Mammoth Cave,
  • Cahokia

South America


  • Aguadulce
  • Cueva de los Vampiros
  • Cueva Ladrones
  • Las Vegas
  • San Jacinto I, Monsu, Puerto Chaco, Puerto Hormigo
  • Real Alto, Loma Alta
  • Paijan complex, Pampa de los Fósiles.
  • Nanchoc
  • Los Gavilanes
  • Ring Site, Quebrada Jaguay, and Quebrada Tacahuay.
  • La Paloma
  • Chilca
  • Tiliviche
  • Quebrada Las Conchas
  • Chinchorro complex
  • Tequendam, El Abra
  • Cubilan
  • Chobshi
  • San Isidro
  • Pena Roja
  • Lauricocha
  • Guitarrero Cave
  • Pachamachay, Uchumachay, Panaulauca, Telarmachay
  • Ayacucho caves
  • Asana
  • Quelcatani
  • Lake Titicaca
  • Tulan 52, Puripica 1
  • Ayalan
  • Tres Ventanas caves
  • Pedra Pintada
  • Taperinha

Cultigens and domesticates


  • teosinte, squash, bottle gourd
  • cushaw squash
  • beans
  • maize
  • cotton

North America

  • maize, squash, gourd
  • cotton
  • beans
  • agave
  • amaranth
  • Sonoran panic grass
  • devil’s claw
  • turkey
  • dog
  • sunflower, sumpweed, and chenopod
  • knotweed, maygrass
  • tobacco

South America

  • cotton
  • beans
  • bottle gourd squash
  • manioc
  • coca
  • peanuts
  • quinoa
  • chili pepper
  • ullucu
  • achira
  • potato
  • tomato
  • oca
  • tarwi
  • manioc
  • avocado
  • sweet potato
  • arrowroot
  • jicama
  • guinea pig
  • llama, alpaca
  • Muscovy duck


  • Bruce Smith
  • R.G. Matson
  • Lautaro Núñez
  • Agustin Llagostera
  • John Rick
  • Mark Aldenderfer
  • Betty Meggers
  • Donald Lathrap
  • Anna Roosevelt
  • Dolores Piperno
  • Deborah Pearsall