Woodland Period: 1000 B.C.E. to Historic (Janzen)
At this time, many cultural changes were happening. The most important was the dependence of agriculture and trade with areas we now call Mexico, Yellowstone, and the Gulf of Mexico. Trade items found in the Ohio Valley included: maize, obsidian, and seashells. Trade brought new ideas and technology via the use of the river systems on which they traveled.
Woodland farmers on the Ohio River built seasonal villages on bluffs near the fertile river bottoms where they harvested native plants such as pigweed, arrow leaf, sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke), and cattails, along with various nuts and berries. They also cultivated maize, squash, gourds and pumpkins, which had been traded with people from the south. With the production of pottery the Woodland peoples could now cook more easily and store the harvested foods. Personal adornment items were made of shell, bone and copper that was traded from Lake Michigan area.
Because they could cultivate and successfully store food in pottery containers there was no longer a need to be constantly moving around. The Woodland people used this newly found time to develop art forms and create elaborate rituals associated with death. In honor of the dead they built earth mounds over multiple and single graves.
Due to their more sedentary life style, more stable, larger, and time consuming items were manufactured for use. Pottery was fired so that it would last longer and could be waterproofed. Clay was ground to a flour consistency and a temper of crushed shell or limestone was added to increase its stability and lasting power. Pottery was also decorated using a cord-wrapped paddle or stick.
Late in the Woodland period, the village-farmer tradition began to disintegrate. It is not clear why. Once again, people became more dependent upon local game for food. With the introduction of the bow and arrow at around 500 B.C. E., the atlatl and spear were eventually discarded. The new weapon was lighter to carry, and easier to manufacture since the points because they were only about one-inch tall.
The clay for Woodland pots was carefully selected and prepared by pounding with a hammer stone until it was a smooth as flour. The clay was then dampened and worked into the consistency of putty. A tempering material such as crushed mussel shell, sand, or limestone was then added to prevent excessive shrinking during the firing process.
Pottery vessel walls were built using the technique of coiling, where ropes of clay were coiled on top of one another and then pressed together to smooth out the air bubbles. The surface was then paddled with a cord-wrapped stick or a flat beater to bond the coils together. Much later, the cord-marked surfaces were often scraped and smoothed or decorated with impressions of fabric or net.
When the clay pots were thoroughly dried they were inverted on rocks over a fire and covered with dried cakes of manure, which burned evenly and slowly. After several hours, or when the fire burned out, the pots were removed and rubbed with grease to waterproof them.
Evidence of the Woodland Culture is widespread throughout the Falls region. Projectile Points tend to be more crudely made than the older Archaic Culture. Tools of the Adena culture are fairly common.
The Woodland Period has also been broken into three periods: Early, Middle, and Late. The Early Woodland Period (1000 B.C.E. – 200 B.C.E) is characterized by the appearance of fabric impressed pottery, the building of mounds for ritual or ceremonial purposes, the use of log tombs, and the use of red ochre.
The Middle Woodland period (200 B.C.E. – 600 C.E.) is characterized by intensive horticulture; the harvesting of plant seeds, like sunflower; the stamping of pottery and production of clay figures; and increased trade for: galena, copper, mica, sea shell and obsidian. Larger mounds and earthwork complexes were being built and some complexes included astronomical alignments like the one that can be seen at Cahokia in Illinois. The main culture at this time is the Hopewell.
In the Late Woodland period (500 C.E. – 1200 C.E.), new tools appeared geared around agriculture, such as deer scapula hoes. Intensive agricultural practices are being used with the planting of maize, beans and squash in the same mound. This planting of corn, beans, and squash is called the three sisters by archaeologists because the corn supported the bean vines and the squash shaded the bean and corn and helped to retain moisture. Beans also released nitrogen into the soil and acted as fertilizer for the other two. The natives were building smaller mounds and there were fewer large villages. Pottery was manufactured with thinner walls and larger collared rims and are now marked with plant cords impressions as a form of decoration. Larger knives were made for cutting and with the introduction of the bow and arrow, smaller projectile points were being manufactured that were triangular and about 1” tall.
Text written by Gwen Corder, edited by Bett Etenohan
To explore other cultural periods, click Paleoindian, Archaic, or Mississippian.
Information about Clarksville Archaeological Sites
Adena Stemmed, Early Woodland, 800 - 300 BCE
Updated July 26, 2011