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Thames & Hudson

Chapter 18 - Complex Societies of North America
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

    explain 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 with 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

    explain the technology that allowed the Dorset and Thule to inhabit extreme environments

    discuss the impact of the Thule expansion on other Arctic peoples

    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

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 which 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.


Mounds and Earthworks Mounds were only a few meters high, with exceptions such as the Grave Creek Adena mound (West Virginia), and built in ritually significant places. Graves, including log-lined tombs for one or more people, were incrementally heightened and renewed. Most are poorly dated; some were used until Middle Woodland times.

Conical Middle Woodland mounds in Illinois contained log-lined elite tombs with rare objects, surrounded by simpler graves. Some Ohio Hopewell mounds housed wooden structures containing over 100 people. Community rituals in associated buildings reaffirmed group identity during mortuary rites. The labor for infrequent mound-building was within the capacity of even small communities.

Other Early and Middle Woodland earthworks appear from Ohio into Kentucky, a few elsewhere: circles, squares, and other shapes, and hilltop enclosures. Small circles enclosed about 1 ha (2.5 acres) with walls of vertical posts within, as at Mount Horeb (Kentucky). Larger examples covered several tens of acres or more, sometimes joined together. Enclosures of earth and stone surmounted hilltops, such as the Fort Ancient earthwork (Ohio) enclosing 51 ha (125 acres). Little is known about activities within enclosures, other than burial. Several large wooden structures containing non-local materials, including mica, have been found at Seip (Ohio).

Exchange Systems and Cultural Ties. Adena and Middle Woodland societies are known for finely crafted artifacts, indicating new contacts between distant groups. Materials exchanged include copper (Great Lakes), mica (Appalachians), colorful chert and pipestone (Midwest), marine shells (Atlantic and Gulf coasts), and obsidian from Yellowstone (Wyoming), 2300 km (1430 miles) from Hopewell.

Ohio contains the most non-local materials in the form of grave goods that highlight conspicuous wealth or generosity. Uneven distribution suggests that people occasionally traveled long distances to procure prized, symbolically important objects. Few violence-marked skeletons indicate a time of low inter-group hostilities, implying permeable social boundaries conducive to such travels.

Local leaders had critical roles in maintaining long-distance contacts among neighboring communities: Tunacunnhee (Georgia) lay along a route through rugged country. Kin groups might have hosted competitive displays to enhance their local reputations; perhaps building mounds and mortuary facilities, and displaying fine objects.

Elites received special burial treatment, and the most important Early and Middle Woodland mortuary facilities contained both sexes and all ages (Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio), although adults and males predominate. Some are buried with their paraphernalia used in life: masks and robes as illustrated in a small figurine from Newark (Ohio). Distinctive funerary pottery styles were widely shared, but most archaeological evidence indicates that this set of ritual ideologies was shared by societies with otherwise distinctive ways of life.

The Beginning of Food-producing Economies. Most people lived in small dispersed communities of scattered lake and riverside houses near short-term hunting, fishing, or collecting camps. An important change about 2000 years ago was increased consumption of native cultigens; these were not new cultigens, but the shift to a greater reliance was abrupt, indicating that changes in social organization, mobility, and technology were related to a need for increased, reliable yields. In other areas, another thousand years passed before cultivation increased, and then largely with maize. Dietary change occurred during population expansion. Increased numbers of sites reflect a growth rate higher than in most of the Archaic put together -about .06 percent annually.

The appearance of pottery is another marker for the Early Woodland period, related to changes in cooking and storing food. In the Southeast, where pottery occurred earlier, it became more common. Ostentatious Adena and Hopewell ceremonies must have required new food-procurement and storage practices (cultivation and ceramics) so that resources could be deployed in ceremonies orchestrated by elites. Mitigation of risk from shortfalls in wild foods would also have been important.

Settlement Patterns in the Late Woodland Period 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.

Most villages lasted only a few years, occupied by a few dozen people. Excavations at the Range site (Illinois) show a typical pattern of houses encircling public spaces that contained special features - anticipating later Mississippian mound centers. Dense forests around sites were replaced by mosaics of cultivated gardens, shrubby growth, and mature trees.

Villages were initially of similar size, until a few centuries before AD 1000 along the central and lower Mississippi, where locally dominant centers with mounds developed, surrounded by smaller settlements, marking the emergence of chiefdoms. Platform mounds appeared at lower Mississippi Valley sites collectively called Coles Creek, such as Lake George (Mississippi). The Toltec site (Arkansas), had 18 mounds, two plazas, and habitation areas spread across 42 ha (104 acres). Rectangular platforms were used in feasts of white-tailed deer, presumably by social elites.

Warfare, Maize, and the Rise of Chiefdoms. A decline in exchange indicates worsening inter-group relations after the Middle Woodland, as does the appearance of many small arrowheads during Late Woodland times, used for hunting, but also as weapons; increasing numbers died violent deaths. Politically and militarily strong groups emerged by the late 1st millennium AD.

Between AD 800 and 1100, maize rapidly became a dietary essential in the Eastern Woodlands, related to increased population densities in clustered villages. Land may have been bitterly contested.

These changes in economy, population, and inter-group relations are associated in poorly understood ways with the emergence of chiefdoms after AD 1000. Paucity of productive land, due to social circumscription as much as geography, gave lineage leaders in land-rich locations power to expand control: desperate people inevitably became indebted to situationally advantaged leaders, who recruited them as supporters. Chiefdoms - societies with permanent leadership positions firmly embedded in kinship relations - became common in the Southeast and Midwest by the 11th century AD, the beginning of the Mississippian period. A northward expansion as far as southern Wisconsin coincided with the Medieval Warm Period of c. AD 1000-1400.

The Mississippian Period: Mound Centers and Villages. 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).

Mounds and Burials. Rectangular, flat-topped platforms mounds bore chiefly houses, council houses, and charnel structures. Elevated buildings, on plazas used for community events, were reminders of the ruler's high social standing. Mississippian mounds were built in incremental stages, legitimizing current rulers through connection with the past. At Lubbub Creek (Alabama) one mound showed continuity with structures on the original ground surface.

Charnel houses, bone deposits, and burials continued to lie within mounds; precious grave goods included marine shell and copper. Artifacts and designs associated with the Southern Cult or Southeastern Ceremonial complex are common in the 13th-14th century AD: seashell and hammered copper plates, axes, maces, and other weapons were decorated with weeping eyes, bird designs, supernatural beings, circles, and crosses. While regional stylistic variation is seen, shared beliefs are clear, as were their role in legitimizing elites. Ancestors are probably represented in figurines of wood and stone; warfare emphasized by artifacts showing warrior/bird-of-prey composites clutching maces and severed heads. Human sacrifices sometimes accompanied burials of highly ranked people.

Although some mounds held 100 individuals, mound burial was highly restricted. People of all ages and both sexes were interred, although adults predominate. Connection to ancestors is exemplified at Craig Mound, Spiro (Oklahoma) where old bones and artifacts were assembled from earlier deposits to emphasize ancestry. Access to mounds was occasionally prevented by rows of posts around their bases or summits, exemplified at TaŽnsa sites of the lower Mississippi Valley.

Settlement Patterns and Food-procurement Strategies. Mississippian settlements ranged from isolated farmsteads to villages and mound centers. Mounds and associated buildings for important people and special purposes ringed a central plaza where ceremonies occurred. Mounds were located within plazas at Moundville (Alabama) and Cahokia (Illinois); an enormous post was found at Mitchell (Illinois). The central precinct could have palisades studded with bastions; commoners lived outside the elite enclosure. A few hundred to several thousand people inhabited mound centers.

Smaller settlements were occupied for shorter periods, with houses arranged around small plazas. Widely scattered single-family houses were the norm elsewhere. In the Cahokia area, dispersed communities contained special structures such as sweat lodges which fostered community cohesion through shared experience.

The geographical locations of population and political centers changed over time. Volatile sociopolitical and demographic landscapes were a result of internal factional competition and external warfare.

A mix of wild and cultivated foods gave subsistence strategies resilience, though droughts and floods were problematic. Most households were self-sufficient in all but the worst of times. Maize was not adopted in the lower Mississippi Valley until well after chiefdoms were established, and was absent in much of peninsular Florida where abundant, dependable, and concentrated wetland and coastal resources provided a comfortable subsistence.

Increased Tensions among the Northern Villages. Northern villages were often clustered together, sharing interests and social institutions. A greater number and a broader distribution of palisaded, larger villages, and a shift to more defensible locations points to increasing conflicts after AD 1000, as climatic conditions deteriorated, culminating in the Little Ice Age beginning around 1400. A village cemetery at Norris Farms #36 exemplifies such violent conflicts. Alliances could ease tensions and created more powerful groups. The historic League of the Iroquois reached its Five Nations form by 1600, with close ties extant a century or more earlier.


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 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.

Preclassic and Classic Hohokam

The Preclassic period (c. AD 700-1150) holds keys to later developments. Excavations at Snaketown, on the Gila river, of jacal (wattle and daub) structures arranged around small courtyards indicate corporate descent groups, distributed around large central plazas. These contained ball courts, suggesting political integration. Some settlements had 1000-2000 people. Hydrological conditions made it easy to divert water into irrigation canals, and large villages had enough labor to construct and maintain such water-control systems.

The Classic period (c. AD 1150-1450) saw abandonment of many peripheral settlements and compression of populations into core areas. Large, walled, adobe enclosures were built, inhumation replaced cremation, and platform mounds replaced ball courts as public architecture. Compounds containing platform mounds were probably residences for hierarchically ranked kin groups.

Platform mound settlements in the Phoenix, Tucson, and Tonto basins were organized in linear systems along major canals, often with the largest sites, such as Las Colinas and Casa Grande, at canal termini, suggesting discrete political units, or irrigation communities.

Classic-period ritual and political events became increasingly centralized at larger villages, and the Hohokam might be viewed as chiefdoms similar to the Mississippians, although the common view is of a hierarchical form of organization based on corporate control of land and water.

The Hohokam were skilled in crafts, but imported objects were used to signify status in ritual activities controlled by religious leaders, such as Pacific Coast shell and copper bells and parrots from Mesoamerica.

Agave was cultivated in addition to maize, beans, and squash, and other plants were also used. Major changes in the Gila River's hydrology occurred early in the Classic period. Between AD 1020 and 1160 the main channel deepened and widened, causing destructive flooding, and complicating water distribution, necessitating larger communal labor groups and hierarchical organizational structures. Irrigation communities emerged, with a platform mound administrative center exerting political control over integrated networks of villages.

The end of the Classic period, around AD 1450, is marked by the abandonment of most Hohokam settlements and a dramatic decline in the regional population, possibly related to regional changes in climate or human impacts, such as soil salinization.

Pueblo Villages on the Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau, a large portion of the northern Southwest, comprises canyons, tablelands, and rugged mountains, with arid environments and vertical vegetation zones. Because of unpredictable climatic regimes, human strategies in the region were necessarily flexible.

Agricultural Foundations. Early farming typically involved semi-mobile family groups cultivating small plots in a long-fallow swidden system, indicating low population densities. Recent investigations in New Mexico revealed small water-control systems as early as 1000 BC, the only known example predating AD 1000. More will probably be discovered, altering conventional views of agricultural development in this region. Water management by small, dispersed, mobile, groups indicates more complex strategies with flexibility to adapt to local conditions. Some groups may even have alternated between farming and foraging.

When pottery became widespread in the northern Southwest between AD 100 and 400, economically autonomous households emerged from prior kin groups as the fundamental unit of production. With only household members sharing resources and rewards, an incentive to work harder and invest more in production exists. The archaeological markers of household development include increased pithouse size, suggesting multiple families, interior storage rather than exterior, and intensification, seen in larger millstones and ceramics.

Archaeologists once called such settlements "Anasazi" or "Ancestral Pueblo" but many recently discovered sites do not fit Pueblo patterns; not all agricultural sites belong to this tradition.

Pueblo I Settlement Pattern During the Pueblo I period (c. AD 750-900) multiple, aggregated households signify permanent villages with over 100 residents such as at Alkalai Ridge (Utah) and McPhee Village (Colorado). Neither domestic rooms or mortuary patterns reflect status or wealth differentiation. Some villages included a "great kiva" used for religious, political, and social functions, such as at Grass Mesa Pueblo (Colorado).

With the precision of tree-ring dating, Andrew Duff and Richard Wilshusen documented depopulation in the Mesa Verde region between AD 800 and 950, associated with new village formation further south in New Mexico, perhaps due to climatic change or need for long-term fallow, emphasizing the difficulty of farming the region.

After AD 800, regional variation in ceramic designs may signify increased boundary maintenance. There is also evidence for low-intensity farmers in the Great Basin and hunter-gatherers in the adjacent southern High Plains.

Pueblo II: the Chaco Phenomenon Regional population shifts continued during the Pueblo II period (c. AD 900-1150), as small farming settlements expanded. In the 10th and early 11th centuries, remarkable communal masonry buildings now called "great houses" were built, concentrated in Chaco Canyon, some containing hundreds of rooms, four stories high. Pueblo Bonito, with over 600 rooms, type-site for the Bonito phase (AD 900-1140), was largely constructed in the 11th century. Around AD 1140, building activity ceased abruptly, followed by rapid decline and abandonment in the 13th century.

In the quest to understand such complexity in an arid and difficult climate, early theorists imagined that the area had once been forested and later denuded. As new, contradictory scientific data emerged, explanations shifted to viewing the canyon within a regional network of dispersed agricultural communities.

Pueblo Bonito lay at the nexus of formal trails connecting the Chacoan great houses, further linked to smaller "outliers." The current consensus view is that religion provides the fundamental explanation for Chaco's centrality in the system, and Pueblo Bonito's function as a sacred destination.

The majority of turquoise caches, unusual ceramics and wooden objects, rooms with multiple human burials, and a large number of kivas occur only at Pueblo Bonito, though other great houses had a similar local character. Analysis of human skeletons from Pueblo Bonito indicates two genetically distinct groups, this and variation in architectural style may indicate multiple social groups in Chaco.

During the early 11th century, when construction was in progress, a large volume of water and sediment flowed into the canyon and a large natural lake may have existed near the biggest concentration of great houses. This would have made the canyon an attractive destination.

Pueblo III: Regional Population Shift By the mid-12th century, building ceased in the canyon and political and social influence shifted northward to a cluster of Chaco-like great houses along the Animas River (New Mexico) then further north to the Mesa Verde region (Colorado). Farming communities differed from Chacoan forms, defining the Pueblo III period (c. AD 1150-1300), reflecting the extreme demographic change prior to abandonment of the northern Colorado Plateau by farming populations.

Large settlements in the Mesa Verde region were situated in defensible locations (i.e. Mesa Verde cliff dwelling) with protected water sources (i.e. Sand Canyon Pueblo). Compared to Chacoan great houses, cliff dwellings were small and lacked great kivas or plazas, and few people resided in them. Pueblo III villages were most dense in along McElmo Creek, were 200 to 400 inhabitants were common. As more communities appeared, territorial overlap caused conflict.

Subsistence included maize and wild resources. Food processing intensification is seen, but climate prevented agricultural intensification. Reserved land, idle during long fallows, was marked by walls to keep outsiders at bay, reflecting economic competition, and skeletal trauma consistent with battering and arrow wounds is widespread after AD 1000. By the 12th century, mass killings produced distinctive deposits of disarticulated and intentionally fragmented remains, possible byproducts of cannibalism, such as at Castle Rock Pueblo (Colorado).

Pueblo IV: Abandonment of the Colorado Plateau Severe drought from 1276 to 1299 is often blamed for the abandonment of the Colorado Plateau by farming groups by AD 1300, but Carlo Van West demonstrated that farmers could have survived this drought. Alternately, around AD 1150, small farming groups began switching to full-time foraging, impinging on the territories of Mesa Verde farmers due to their need for a large subsistence area. Drought and competition for wild resources may be behind the abandonment.

By the early 1300s, farming populations increased along the Rio Grande and Little Colorado rivers, as immigrants arrived from northern areas, joining already-established small, low density, semi-mobile household groups, creating a need to intensify. The Pueblo IV period was a time of socioeconomic reorganization.

Pueblo IV settlements were larger than antecedent villages, some with over 1000 rooms around large plazas. In contrast to Pueblo III sites with many small kivas, one or two exceptionally large kivas indicate more integration and inclusiveness, but perhaps loss of household autonomy.

Dry-farming only was used for maize, beans, squash, and cotton. Intensification methods included bordered fields, terraces, rainfall runoff diversion, reservoirs, cobble mulch and rockpiles; all indicating communal production strategies and control above the household level.

In the early 14th century, polychrome and lead glazing ceramic technology appeared, with export-oriented glazeware production confined to specialized villages. Glaze wares may have been status markers or ritual objects.

Salado polychrome pottery became widely distributed, cutting across culture traditions. Patricia Crown discovered that these pots were locally made, with little design variation, perhaps an expression of a Southwest Cult of the 14th and 15th centuries, a pan-regional, socially inclusive religious ideology tied to water control and agricultural fertility. Use by mixed ethnic and linguistic groups, to lessen social tensions, accounts for its wide distribution.

Population Decline Pueblo IV, a so-called "Golden Age," nonetheless saw declining health due to malnutrition and increased disease. Intentional village destruction and warfare imagery in rock art are seen. Overall population dropped as much as 70 percent between AD 1300 and 1500. No land shortage or extreme climate events explain this decline.

By the 15th century, Athapaskan-speakers from western Canada, Uto-Aztecan speakers from the Great Basin, and various Plains tribes entered the Colorado Plateau. It is difficult to explain the abandonment of vast farmland areas unless access was decreased; this influx of hunter-gatherers is a plausible scenario.

The 16th century Spanish arrival may have been less dramatic than assumed, since the Pueblos were already dealing with new competitors and rapid social changes. Spanish enforced labor, introduced disease, and raiding by hunter-gatherers almost extinguished Pueblo society during the Spanish Colonial period (1542-1821). From only a few thousand people in the late 19th century, their communities have recovered to take a major role in local and national issues.


Unlike 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.

Village Settlements Pottery, substantial houses, burial mounds, and cultivated plants appeared across the Great Plains around 500 BC, heralding the Plains Woodland period, which lasted to about AD 1000.

Pottery and projectile points at some sites in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri indicate contact with eastern Middle Woodland societies. Some large villages had earthen mounds over structures with stacked-stone walls. Mound tombs at sites in the Dakotas along the Missouri River contain disarticulated bones, marine shell and obsidian, and human and animal skull parts, indicating ideological sharing with Eastern Woodlands peoples. Yellowstone obsidian found at Hopewell comes from farther upstream along the Missouri river.

Maize, already present in small amounts, became significant late in the 1st millennium AD. From about AD 1000, cultures termed Plains Village Indians lived in settlements of earth-covered lodges with large storage pits, wooden palisades and other defenses. Successful farmers also used wild resources from nearby forests, and engaged in bison-hunting trips.

Plains villages varied from a few dispersed houses to several hundred people, such as the 14th-century Crow Creek site. Villages were unevenly distributed, even on the best land, due to environmental and social concerns such as alliances and protection during warfare, indicated archaeologically by skeletal injury and defensive structures.

Exchange Systems Ceramic connections to Cahokia appear at the Steed-Kisker sites (Kansas). Elsewhere, exchange networks linked Plains people to the Eastern Woodlands, Southwest, and Pacific Coast, indicated by seashells, rare trade wares, or copies of them. European objects arrived in the 17th century. Spanish missions among the Pueblos deliberately attempted to control trade between the regions, disrupting social relationships and increasing violence. Horses arrived by the 18th century, transforming life on the plains. Equestrian, nomadic peoples such as the eastern woodland Sioux became dominant, since settled agriculturalists were more susceptible to diseases and were decimated by smallpox. Proportionately less disease impacted nomadic equestrian groups, due to small group sizes and irregular contact.


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.

Southern California The Santa Barbara Channel islands and southern California shoreline were heavily populated at Spanish contact in the 18th century. The region's late prehistoric people used large plank canoes to harvest marine resources from villages of up to 200 people. Social ranking emerged by the late 12th century AD or earlier, when a few people received rich grave offerings in cemeteries where others had few or none. Several centuries of inter-community conflict, indicated by skeletally-embedded projectile points, preceded the establishment of chiefdoms. Increased hereditary authority and social inequality coincided with a decline in marine food productivity, giving aspiring leaders opportunities to promote production of both food surpluses and valued objects such as shell beads. This reduced famine through food stockpiling and exchange of goods for food.

Seaworthy canoes facilitated deep-water fishing and were needed to complete the exchange of goods with other groups; they were difficult to make, so only high-ranking people possessed them. They were economically useful and markers of high status.

The Pacific Northwest Pacific Coast societies are the best-known North American examples of complex hunter-gatherer-fishers, living in permanent villages of substantial plank houses with a rich artistic tradition. Archaeological materials dating back several thousand years indicate continuity between prehistoric and recent peoples.

Village Life. Permanent villages and social inequalities emerged in the 2nd millennium BC during the Middle Pacific period (1800 BC to AD 500). Rectangular buildings held large households with abundant storage space for food. Stone celts suggest canoe construction, and net weights, toggle harpoons, and weirs underscore the critical role of fishing. By the Late Pacific period (c. AD 500-1775), societies closely approximated early historic traditions.

Middle to Late Pacific people relied heavily on marine and river resources, from whales to salmon. Salmon must be caught in a short period, requiring coordinated labor, but resulting in an abundant catch. Like agricultural societies elsewhere, Northwest Coast people could have fixed territories and sedentary communities as long as the periodic mobilization of labor could provide substantial amounts of storable food.

Unpredictable food shortfalls were buffered by alliances and exchange networks among highly ranked people. Prehistoric exchange is indicated by copper, obsidian, nephrite, and dentalium shell from distant places. Asian iron may have been traded or come from shoreline debris.

Historically, social standing was linked to household rights over natural resources, giving some an inherent ability to produce more and gain wealth. Status was marked by large houses in favored locations, a pattern appearing early in the 1st millennium AD, indicating ranked households by that time. Artifacts indicate part-time household specialization. Special mortuary practices, cranial deformation, and labrets indicate status and date back several thousand years.

Warfare and Population Decline. The Middle Pacific period saw warfare increase in intensity through time. By the 1st millennium AD, hilltop fortifications and the bow and arrow had appeared. Skeletons from Prince Rupert Harbour (British Columbia) show that one-third of men and one-sixth of women experienced cranial fractures, many healed, probably from attacks by enemy groups; several decapitations were also noted. In the historic period, captured enemies were enslaved, a practice probable in the past.

The region's population plummeted in the 19th century, ironically when economic opportunities and newly introduced goods were at high levels. A resulting change was an elaboration of the "potlatch," a competitive ceremony and feast, where items were distributed and destroyed to enhance the prestige of the sponsors. Some argue that totem poles date only to the 18th century, when metal tools became available.


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.

The Dorset and Thule Cultures When the Norse arrived, small groups of people known as the Dorset were spread thinly across the Arctic. They emerged by 500 BC, hunting musk ox, caribou, and sea mammals. Winter settlements in favorable hunting grounds had several small houses heated by oil lamps. Snow-block houses are indicated by long bone and antler snow knives. Elongated enclosures, tens of meters long, held some ritual or social significance.

The Thule expansion, from the North Pacific Rim eastwards across Arctic Canada, began around AD 1000, coinciding with the Medieval Warm Period. Skillful hunters of sea mammals, including bowhead whales, their sophisticated technology included specialized harpoons and skin-covered boats. Their winter houses were built of stone, sod, driftwood, and whale bones, and special structures for ritual and social purposes were sometimes present.

Despite environmental richness, foods were often unpredictable, and starvation could occur, exemplified at the Ukkuqsi site (Alaska). Due to their specialized hunting technology, the Thule gained a demographic edge over Dorset people, and their bows provided an advantage in any fighting between the groups. During the 11th or 12th century, a few hundred years after the Thule arrival, the Dorset and Norse colonies had disappeared, probably through migration.

Physical traces of Norse and skraeling contact are limited to a small number of artifacts. This early contact had no lasting effect on the native societies. That would change in the 16th century, when Europeans returned.


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 by generations, not centuries, making the archaeological study of change difficult.

Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in AD 1492. In the mid-16th century Hernando De Soto explored the Southeast, and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado traveled the Southwest and central Plains. Spanish colonies were established in Florida, New Mexico, and California. The English and French colonized the eastern seaboard. The Americans, British, and Canadians pushed westward across the continent, and the Russians made inroads into Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Each European group had its own objectives, which affected the tone of relations with Native Americans, who suffered greatly from disease, wars, mistreatment, and forced relocations.

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 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 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 Method: Tree-Ring Dating
Key Site: Jamestown

Key words and terms Chapter 18

Geography, climate, environment
people adapted successfully to a vast range of environments
United States
Eastern Woodlands
Northwest Coast
Southwestern United States, desert
Canada, boreal forest, tundra
Arctic Ocean
river valleys
large wetlands
thick forests
vast grassland plains
Mississippi River
Rocky Mountains
Pacific Coast
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)
erect knotweed
marsh elder

prickly pear cactus
tansy mustard.
Ponderosa and Pinyon pine
Douglas fir

wild foods

Pacific Coast
sea mammals

musk ox
sea mammals
bowhead whales


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

Ancient/historic people
Lewis and Clark
Captain James Cook
Hernando De Soto
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Leif Eriksson

Periods, phases, cultures
Eastern Woodlands
Early Woodland period (c. 800-200 BC).
Middle Woodland period (c. 200 BC-AD 400)
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)
Plains Village Indians

Pacific Coast
Santa Barbara chiefdoms
Middle Pacific (c. 1800 BC - AD 500)
Late Pacific period (c. AD 500-1775)

Dorset (500 BC - 15th century)
Thule expansion (AD 1000 - historic Inuit)
Norse (AD 1000 - 15th century)
Medieval period

lost Colony at Roanoke (English)

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 TaŽnsa (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
trade items: copper, obsidian, nephrite, dentalium shell. Asian iron
bow and arrow

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

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

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
part-time specialization of household members
cranial deformation, labrets
violence, cranial fracture

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

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