Chapter Summary and Key Concepts

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to:

  • describe the range of environments and climates in North America and their impact on cultural development; also the unique ways in which Native North Americans overcame climatic difficulties to establish societies or civilizations
  • discuss the major geographic areas typically used by archaeologists in describing the North American past, and the cultural traditions associated with them
  • understand that while each region harbored unique cultures, there was widespread communication between geographic regions in the form of trade, alliances, and cultural influences
  • characterize the Early Woodland in contrast to the preceding Archaic, in terms of subsistence, ceramic production, and moundbuilding
  • describe the rise of Middle Woodland chiefdoms
  • discuss the Hopewell horizon in terms of its expression in religion, mortuary behavior, social and political organization, and trade
  • be familiar with some theories about the collapse of the Hopewell system
  • characterize conditions during the Late Woodland and how they led to the development of the Mississippian chiefdoms
  • describe the organization and nature of Mississippian chiefdoms, their connections, and how they changed through time
  • characterize the methods by which Native Americans inhabited, farmed, and built complex societies in the Southwest United States and Sonoran desert
  • discuss the various debates over the organization of society during the Chaco Phenomenon
  • explain the many adjustments, migrations, and shifts seen in the Southwest during the Pueblo periods in order to cope with changing climatic and social conditions
  • describe the connections between the Hohokam culture and Mesoamerica
  • understand how Hohokam society organized irrigation, and was itself organized in part to deal with the need for water control in an arid region
  • characterize the Plains Indian cultures, in contrast with the typical stereotypes based on historic areas Plains groups
  • explain how the natural and social environments of the Plains impacted the settlement patterns of the region
  • describe the connections of the Plains farming peoples with other groups in the Eastern Woodlands, Southwest, and Rocky Mountains
  • understand how and why nomadic bison hunters came to dominate Plains farmers by the 19th century
  • characterize how the rich marine and river environments of the California coast and Pacific Northwest affected the social organization of the cultures that developed in these regions
  • explain the concept of the “complex hunter-gatherer” and how is it expressed on the Pacific Coast
  • discuss the interactions between sedentism, resource control, labor mobilization, and the rise of ranked and stratified chiefly societies along the Northwest coast, and elsewhere
  • describe how chiefdoms mitigate risk and intergroup violence through trade and alliances along the Pacific Coast, and in all areas where chiefdoms developed
  • characterize the lifeways of Arctic and Subarctic cultures in North America and their survival in a region both rich and dangerous
  • characterize the Norse colonization of Greenland and Canada, and its impact on Native groups
  • trace the arrival of various other European groups in the 15th century and later, and what the motives and strategies of each group comprised
  • explain the impact of European presence on Native North Americans, in terms of each nation’s specific interests and general impacts.

Chapter Summary

At the time of European contact, the North American continent was home to a remarkably diverse array of societies: from settled agricultural communities numbering from a few hundred to thousands of people, to other groups that hunted, fished, and foraged, successfully adapted to a vast range of environmental niches.


Important changes in social relationships occurred during the Early Woodland period (c. 800–200 bc) leading to the appearance of conical mounds in the middle Ohio Valley, referred to as the Adena culture, a convenient term applied to Early Woodland cultures in the Eastern Woodlands. By the Middle Woodland period (c. 200 bc –ad 400), mounds were part of a rich ceremonial life, with elaborate burials, mortuary rituals, and skillfully made artifacts in precious materials.

Settlement Patterns in the Late Woodland Period, c. AD 400–1000

The early Late Woodland in the Midwest and Southeast (from c. ad 400) saw an almost complete cessation of mound construction and long-distance exchange, though population continued to grow, indicated by greater numbers of sites. Midwest and Southeast habitations, once limited to major rivers, expanded into their upper reaches and tributary streams, facilitated by increased productivity, through cultivation, of less desirable land.

The Mississippian Period: Mound Centers and Villages, c. AD 1000–1600

Most chiefdoms reflect Mississippian culture (ad 1000 to the 15th century in the Midwest, and to the 16th century in the Southeast) through distinctive artifacts and architecture. Mounds were one characteristic; the largest is Monks Mound at Cahokia (Illinois).


Prehistoric farmers of the Sonoran Desert raised the carrying capacity of their environment by managing the flow of water. Canal irrigation dates to ad 1000 or earlier, reversing earlier assumptions that water management was unnecessary in the small family settlements of the Early Agricultural, or Formative period. Investigations now confirm that water-control technology preceded the development of large permanent villages, laying a foundation for the Hohokam cultural tradition.


Contrary to popular images of Great Plains peoples as nomadic equestrian bison hunters, most lived in permanent villages and grew crops. Chiefs had only limited powers within their politically and economically autonomous villages.


California and the Pacific Northwest contained a diverse array of hunting-gathering-fishing groups, including organizationally complex societies, well known because traditional lifeways continued into the 19th and early 20th centuries.


People occupying Greenland and Labrador southward to wooded Newfoundland were the first Native Americans to meet Europeans, about 1000 years ago, when the Norse reached Greenland and the North American mainland. They called the natives they encountered skraelings.


All native cultures were irrevocably changed or disappeared entirely within a few centuries of a permanent European presence in North America during the 16th century. Coastal Native Americans were well documented by explorers, but interior groups were not, as disease and social upheaval caused by European contact disrupted their ways of life long before Europeans actually met them face to face. Profound changes had already occurred on time scales measured in generations, not centuries, making the archaeological study of change difficult.

The plight of the surviving Native Americans only garnered attention in the late 19th century. Their numbers rose in the 20th century, despite problems with health, education, and economic opportunities. These people survive as the rightfully proud descendants of cultural traditions that extend back for thousands of years.

Box Features

Key Controversy: The Size and Influence of Cahokia

Key Controversy: Chaco’s Population During the Bonito Phase

Key Controversy: Native American Population on the Eve of European Contact

Key Discovery: Hohokam Ballcourts

Key Discovery: Chocolate at Pueblo Bonito

Key Method: Tree-ring Dating

Key Site: Hopewell

Key Site: Craig Mound

Key Site: Pecos Pueblo

Key Site: Crow Creek: Scene of a Massacre

Key Site: Ozette

Key Site: L’Anse aux Meadows

Key Site: Jamestown

Key words and terms 

Geography, climate, environment

  • people adapted successfully to a vast range of environments
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Greenland
  • Labrador
  • Newfoundland
  • Eastern Woodlands
  • Plains
  • Southwest
  • California
  • Northwest Coast
  • Arctic
  • Southwestern United States, desert
  • Canada, boreal forest, tundra
  • Arctic Ocean
  • coastlines
  • river valleys
  • large wetlands
  • thick forests
  • vast grassland plains
  • Mississippi River
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Pacific Coast
  • Alaska
  • Ohio Valley
  • Medieval Warm Period of c. ad 1000–1400,
  • Sonoran Desert
  • Gila River
  • Phoenix, Tucson, and Tonto basins
  • Colorado Plateau of the northern Southwest
  • canyons, tablelands, mountain ranges
  • vertical vegetation zones
  • aridity, drought
  • San Juan River
  • Dolores River
  • Mesa Verde region
  • Great Basin
  • High Plains
  • Chaco Canyon
  • Animas River
  • McElmo Creek
  • Rio Grande
  • Little Colorado river
  • Great Plains
  • Missouri River
  • tall-grass prairie; short-grass prairie
  • Southern California
  • Santa Barbara Channel
  • North Atlantic
  • Little Ice Age

Subsistence Species

Eastern Woodlands

  • goosefoot (chenopod)
  • maygrass
  • erect knotweed
  • marsh elder
  • sunflower
  • squash
  • maize
  • bean
  • deer


  • agave
  • mesquite
  • amaranth
  • chenopod
  • saguaro
  • prickly pear cactus
  • tansy mustard.
  • Ponderosa and Pinyon pine
  • Douglas fir


  • maize
  • bison
  • dog
  • wild foods

Pacific Coast

  • fish
  • shellfish
  • birds
  • sea mammals
  • salmon
  • whale


  • musk ox
  • caribou
  • sea mammals
  • seals
  • walrus
  • bowhead whales


  • Pima
  • Athapaskan
  • Uto-Aztecan


  • Ricky Lightfoot
  • Andrew Duff
  • Richard Wilshusen
  • Patricia Crown
  • Emil Haury
  • David Wilcox
  • Alfred V. Kidder

Ancient/historic people

  • Lewis and Clark
  • Captain James Cook
  • Columbus
  • Hernando De Soto
  • Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
  • Leif Eriksson

Periods, phases, cultures

Eastern Woodlands

  • Early Woodland period (c. 800–200 bc)
  • Adena
  • Middle Woodland period (c. 200 bc – ad 400)
  • Hopewell
  • Late Woodland period (c. ad 400–1000)
  • Mississippian period (ad 1000–15th century in the Midwest, 16th century in the Southeast)
  • Southern Cult or Southeastern Ceremonial complex
  • Calusa (Florida)
  • League of the Iroquois. Five Nations (by 1600)
  • Timucua (Florida)


  • Early Agricultural, or Formative, period
  • Cochise culture
  • Hohokam Preclassic period (c. ad 700–1150)
  • Hohokam culture
  • Hohokam Classic period (c. ad 1150–1450)
  • Chihuahua (Mexico)
  • Anasazi; Ancestral Pueblo
  • Pueblo I period (c. ad 750–900)
  • Pueblo II period (c. ad 900–1150)
  • Bonito phase (ad 900–1140)
  • Pueblo III period (c. ad 1150–1300)
  • Pueblo IV period (c. ad 1300–1500)
  • Spanish Colonial period (1542–1821)


  • Plains Woodland period (c. 500 bc – ad 1000)
  • Mandan
  • Arikara
  • Plains Village Indians
  • Sioux

Pacific Coast

  • Santa Barbara chiefdoms
  • Middle Pacific (c. 1800 bc – ad 500)
  • Late Pacific period (c. ad 500–1775)
  • Haida
  • Kwakiutl
  • Tlingit
  • Chumash


  • Dorset (500 bc –15th century)
  • Thule expansion (ad 1000– historic Inuit)
  • Norse (ad 1000–15th century)
  • Medieval period


Eastern Woodlands

  • Grave Creek (West Virginia)
  • Mount Horeb (Kentucky)
  • Fort Ancient (Ohio)
  • Seip (Ohio)
  • Hopewell (Ohio)
  • Tunacunnhee (Georgia)
  • Range site (Illinois)
  • Coles Creek sites (Mississippi)
  • Lake George (Mississippi)
  • Toltec (Arkansas)
  • Cahokia (Illinois)
  • Lubbub Creek (Alabama)
  • Spiro (Oklahoma)
  • Moundville (Alabama)
  • Mitchell (Illinois)
  • Norris Farms #36 (Illinois)


  • Snaketown (Arizona)
  • Las Colinas (Arizona)
  • Casa Grande (Arizona)
  • Alkalai Ridge (Utah)
  • McPhee Village (Colorado)
  • Grass Mesa Pueblo (Colorado)
  • Chaco Canyon (New Mexico)
  • Pueblo Bonito (New Mexico)
  • Mesa Verde (Colorado)
  • Sand Canyon Pueblo (Colorado)
  • Castle Rock Pueblo (Colorado)
  • Pecos Pueblo (New Mexico)


  • Kansas City cluster of sites
  • Missouri River sites
  • Crow Creek (South Dakota)
  • Steed-Kisker sites (Kansas)

Pacific Coast

  • Ozette (Washington)
  • Prince Rupert Harbour (British Columbia)


  • L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland)
  • Ukkuqsi (Alaska)

Artifacts, features, buildings, structures

Eastern Woodlands

  • log-lined tombs
  • conical mounds
  • earthworks in circles, squares, and other shapes
  • hilltop enclosures
  • masked figurine from Newark (Ohio)
  • small arrowheads; bow and arrow
  • Monks Mound (Cahokia)
  • flat-topped platform mounds
  • open plazas
  • burial mounds
  • charnel houses, bone deposits
  • Southern Cult or Southeastern Ceremonial complex
  • motifs: weeping eyes, thunderbird, circles, crosses, supernaturals with maces and severed heads
  • human ancestor figurines
  • Craig Mound (Spiro)
  • the Great Mortuary charnel house of the Taënsa (lower Mississippi)


  • Hohokam canal irrigation, ballcourts, platform mound compounds
  • white slip, black-painted Pueblo ceramics
  • Chacoan roads
  • Chacoan outliers
  • cliff dwellings
  • bordered fields, terraced slopes, diversion dams, reservoirs, cobble mulch, and rock piles
  • Salado polychrome pottery
  • lead-glazed ware
  • Spanish missions


  • Plains earthen mounds over stacked stone structures
  • earth-covered lodges
  • bison-scapula hoes
  • wooden palisades and ditches
  • European trade objects (17th century)

Pacific Coast

  • Santa Barbara Channel Islands plank canoes
  • bow and arrow
  • marine shell beads
  • chert microblades
  • Northwest coast plank houses
  • totem poles
  • watertight bentwood boxes
  • stone celts
  • wooden canoes
  • net weights
  • toggle harpoons
  • weirs
  • trade items: copper, obsidian, nephrite, dentalium shell. Asian iron
  • bow and arrow
  • potlatch


  • Dorset soapstone lamps
  • long bone and antler snow knives
  • elongated ritual enclosures defined by stones
  • specialized harpoons
  • skin-covered boats
  • Thule houses; stone, sod, driftwood, and whale bones
  • ritual and social buildings

Terms and concepts

Eastern Woodlands

  • pottery appears at beginning of the 1st millennium bc
  • mound builders of the Eastern Woodlands
  • Early and Middle Woodland conical mounds
  • Hopewell; exchange system, long-distance travel, complex mortuary rites, low inter-group hostilities
  • Hopewell trade items: copper (Great Lakes), mica (Appalachians), chert, and pipestone (Midwest), marine shells (south Atlantic and Gulf coasts), obsidian (Wyoming)
  • Early and Middle Woodland mounds: both sexes and all ages; adults and males predominate
  • Late Woodland mound centers, decline in exchange, worsening inter-group relations, shift to reliance on maize
  • emergence of chiefdoms after ad 1000
  • Mississippian palisades, larger villages, shift to defensible locations, violence
  • Southern Cult or Southeastern Ceremonial complex
  • human sacrifices
  • adobe


  • jacal (wattle and daub)
  • shifting agriculture
  • agricultural intensification
  • water-control systems, irrigation
  • alternating farming and foraging
  • pithouses
  • surface rooms
  • kiva; great kiva
  • inter-regional migrations
  • great houses
  • Chaco Phenomenon
  • short fallow; long fallow
  • cannibalism
  • drought of 1276 to 1299
  • dry-farming
  • the Southwest Cult
  • dendrochronology


  • trade with Hopewell
  • trade with Mississippians
  • violence, skeletal injuries
  • introduction of horse
  • smallpox epidemic of the 1830s

Pacific Coast

  • complex hunter-gatherer-fishers
  • class system, social inequalities
  • plentiful and predictable source of food, short period of coordinated labor, fixed territories and sedentary communities
  • exchange networks between highly ranked people
  • potlatch
  • part-time specialization of household members
  • cranial deformation, labrets
  • violence, cranial fracture
  • warfare
  • slavery


  • skraelings
  • replacement of Dorset by Thule
  • rich food resources, danger of starvation