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 or "Meso-Indian period" in North America, taken to last from around 8000 to 1000 BC[ 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. [1] As its ending is defined by the adoption of sedentary farming, this date can vary significantly across the Americas.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.


The rest of the Americas also have an Archaic Period. [1]

Archaic Period (Americas)

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 Sometimes also referred to as the "Pre-Ceramic stage" or period, it followed the Lithic stage and was superseded by the Formative stage, or a Preformative stage.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:


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

Gordon Randolph Willey was an American archaeologist who was described by colleagues as the "dean" of New World archaeology. Willey performed fieldwork at excavations in South America, Central America and the Southeastern United States; and pioneered the development and methodology for settlement patterns theories. He worked as an anthropologist for the Smithsonian Institution and as a professor at Harvard University.

Philip Phillips was an influential archaeologist in the United States during the 20th century. Although his first graduate work was in architecture, he later received a doctorate from Harvard University under advisor Alfred Marston Tozzer. His first archaeological experiences were on Iroquois sites, but he specialized in the Mississippian culture, especially its Lower Mississippi Valley incarnation.

In the organization of the system, the Archaic period followed the Lithic stage and is superseded by the Formative stage. [2]

Lithic stage North American prehistoric period before 10,000 years ago

In the sequence of cultural stages first proposed for the archaeology of the Americas by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips in 1958, the Lithic stage was the earliest period of human occupation in the Americas, as post-glacial hunters and collectors spread through the Americas. The stage derived its name from the first appearance of Lithic flaked stone tools. The term Paleo-Indian is an alternative, generally indicating much the same period.

Formative stage America

Several chronologies in the archaeology of the Americas include a Formative Period or Formative stage etc. It is often sub-divided, for example into "Early", "Middle" and "Late" stages.

  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. [3]

The Archaic Southwest was the culture of the southwestern United States between 6500 BC and 200 AD (approximately).

The San Dieguito Complex is an archaeological pattern left by early Holocene inhabitants of Southern California and surrounding portions of the Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Radiocarbon dating places a 10,200 BP date consideration.

Oshara Tradition, the northern tradition of the Picosa culture, was a Southwestern Archaic Tradition centered in New Mexico and Colorado. Cynthia Irwin-Williams developed the sequence of Archaic culture for Oshara during her work in the Arroyo Cuervo area of northwestern New Mexico. Irwin contends that the Ancestral Puebloans developed, at least in part, from the Oshara.

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. [4] 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.

Watson Brake archaeological site in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, United States

Watson Brake is an archaeological site in present-day Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, from the Archaic period. Dated to about 5400 years ago, Watson Brake is considered the oldest earthwork mound complex in North America. It is older than the Egyptian pyramids or England’s Stonehenge. Its discovery and dating in a paper published in 1997 changed the ideas of American archaeologists about ancient cultures in the Southeast and their ability to manage large, complex projects over centuries. The archeologists revised their date of the oldest earthwork construction by nearly 2000 years, as well as having to recognize that it was developed over centuries by a hunter-gatherer society, rather than by what was known to be more common of other, later mound sites: a more sedentary society dependent on maize cultivation and with a hierarchical, centralized polity.

Poverty Point Prehistoric site of the Poverty Point culture in northeastern Louisiana, United States

Poverty Point State Historic Site is a prehistoric earthwork constructed by the Poverty Point culture. The Poverty Point site is located in present-day northeastern Louisiana though evidence of the Poverty Point culture extends throughout much of the Southeastern United States. The culture extended 100 miles (160 km) across the Mississippi Delta and south to the Gulf Coast. The Poverty Point site has been designated as a U.S. National Monument, a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Southern United States, the site is 15.5 miles (24.9 km) from the current flow of the Mississippi River, and is situated on the edge of Macon Ridge, near the village of Epps in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana.

Poverty Point culture Archaeological culture that inhabited the lower Mississippi Valley

Poverty Point culture is an archaeological culture that of a prehistoric indigenous peoples who inhabited a portion of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf coast from about 1730 - 1350 BC.

Across what is now the Southeastern United States, 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 of the Southeastern United States. 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). [5] [6]


Early Archaic
Middle Archaic
Late Archaic

See also

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Further reading