Archaic period (North America)

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Copper knife, spearpoints, awls, and spud, from the Late Archaic period, Wisconsin, 3000-1000 BC Copper knife, spearpoints, awls, and spud, Late Archaic period, Wisconsin, 3000 BC-1000 BC - Wisconsin Historical Museum - DSC03436.JPG
Copper knife, spearpoints, awls, and spud, from the Late Archaic period, Wisconsin, 3000-1000 BC

In the classification of the archaeological cultures of North America, the Archaic period in North America, taken to last from around 8000 to 1000 BC [1] [ citation needed ] in the sequence of North American pre-Columbian cultural stages, is a period defined by the archaic stage of cultural development. The Archaic stage is characterized by subsistence economies supported through the exploitation of nuts, seeds, and shellfish. [2] As its ending is defined by the adoption of sedentary farming, this date can vary significantly across the Americas.


The rest of the Americas also have an Archaic Period. [2]


This classification system was first proposed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips in the widely accepted 1958 book Method and Theory in American Archaeology.

In the organization of the system, the Archaic period followed the Lithic stage and is superseded by the Formative stage. [3]

  1. The Lithic stage
  2. The Archaic stage
  3. The Formative stage
  4. The Classic stage
  5. The Post-Classic stage

Numerous local variations have been identified within the cultural rankings. The period has been subdivided by region and then time. For instance, the Archaic Southwest tradition is subdivided into the Dieguito-Pinto, Oshara, Cochise and Chihuahua cultures. [4]

Archaic stage in North America

Since the 1990s, secure dating of multiple Middle Archaic sites in northern Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida has challenged traditional models of development. In these areas, hunter-gatherer societies in the Lower Mississippi Valley organized to build monumental earthwork mound complexes as early as 3500 BC (confirmed at Watson Brake), with building continuing over a period of 500 years. Such early mound sites as Frenchman's Bend and Hedgepeth were of this time period; all were constructed by localized societies. Watson Brake is now considered to be the oldest mound complex in the Americas. [5] It precedes that built at Poverty Point by nearly 2,000 years (both are in northern Louisiana). More than 100 sites have been identified as associated with the regional Poverty Point culture of the Late Archaic period, and it was part of a regional trading network across the Southeast.

Across the Southeastern Woodlands, starting around 4000 BC, people exploited wetland resources, creating large shell middens. Middens developed where the people lived along rivers, but there is limited evidence of Archaic peoples along the coastlines prior to 3000 BC. Archaic sites on the coast may have been inundated by rising sea levels (one site in 15 to 20 feet of water off St. Lucie County, Florida, has been dated to 2800 BC). Starting around 3000 BC, evidence of large-scale exploitation of oysters appears. During the period 3000 BC to 1000 BC, shell rings, large shell middens that more or less surround open centers, were developed along the coast. These shell rings are numerous in South Carolina and Georgia, but are also found scattered around the Florida Peninsula and along the Gulf of Mexico coast as far west as the Pearl River. In some places, such as Horr's Island in Southwest Florida, resources were rich enough to support sizable mound-building communities year-round. Four shell or sand mounds on Horr's Island have been dated to between 4,870 and 4,270 Before Present (BP). [6] [7]


Early Archaic
Middle Archaic
Late Archaic

See also

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Shell ring Type of shell mound

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Archaic Period (Americas) North American prehistoric period

Several chronologies in the archaeology of the Americas include an Archaic Period or Archaic stage etc. It is often sub-divided, for example into "Early", "Middle" and "Late", or alternatively "Lower" and "Upper", stages. The dates, and the characteristics of the period called "Archaic" vary between different parts of the Americas. Sometimes also referred to as the "Pre-Ceramic stage" or period, it followed the Lithic stage and was superseded by the Formative stage, or a Preformative stage. The typical broad use of the terms is as follows:

Cayo Pelau Archaeological Site is a multi-period aboriginal archaeological site in Charlotte Harbor on the west peninsular Gulf coast of the United States. The island is 3.5 miles directly south of the Big Mound Key-Boggess Ridge Archeological District. It is the only site that lies within two counties, Lee County in the south and Charlotte County, Florida to the north. Neither county has taken responsibility for identifying, protecting or preserving the prehistoric and historical cultural resources on the island.



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Further reading