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Woodland Cultures (2,000 BC to 1,000 BC)

About 2,000 BC there was a gradual appearance of what is called the Woodland Culture. These people used bows and arrows, pottery, and agriculture, characteristics that we often think of as American Indian. These technologies were not developed quickly, may have been independently developed in several locations, and had tremendous impact on their society. Woodland Indians probably retained many of their predecessors ways of seasonal hunting and gathering patterns, but tended to settle in larger semi-permanent villages. These were often located along streams that were suited to fishing and agriculture. Many of their villages had houses, defensive walls or palisades, and areas for storing food.

The Woodland Period is divided into Early, Middle, and Late Woodland. During the Early Woodland Period populations increased, as evidenced by the increase in the number and size of villages. The number and diversity of tools also increased significantly over the earlier Archaic period. Pottery was developed and its existence is generally used a marker for the beginning of the Woodland culture. Most Early Woodland pottery was heavy, thick walled, and often had impressions from basketry or matting on its outer surface. The "standard" Woodland type of pottery was a round-bottomed jar. The construction of burial mounds also began, suggesting a more sophisticated ceremonial system. Important personages were buried in low domed mounds. The use of tobacco appeared, as evidenced by pipes found in Early Woodland sites. A number of native plants were being cultivated, but corn was not yet known.

The Middle Woodland Period is characterized by extensive trade networks and ceremonial earth mounds. Copper from the Great Lakes and obsidian from as far west as have been found made into ornaments scattered throughout the southeastern U.S. The earthen ceremonial mounds were sometimes extremely elaborate. The growing of corn (maize) was also introduced from the southwestern U.S. during this period. However, it does not appear that corn was well enough established during this period to be a major component of their diet. Gourds and pumpkins were also cultivated during this period.

Late Woodland people probably lived much the same as their predecessors, but no longer traded large quantities of goods that characterized the Middle Woodland. This period is marked by the development of the bow and arrow, which led to new hunting techniques. The bow and arrow is well suited to one of their primary game animals, the white tailed deer, and allowed a single hunter to stalk and kill game. The spear and lance that served the hunter for so many millennia had finally been replaced by modern technology. Many small animals were also included in Woodland man's diet. These included raccoon, otter, fox, woodchuck, beaver, opossum, turkey, and swans. By this time the sophistication of their pottery had also increased significantly.

National Park Service's Southeastern Prehistory Woodland Period website

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