Archaic period (North America)

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 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.

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

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


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In the organization of the system, the Archaic period followed the Lithic stage and is superseded by the Formative stage.[2]

  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]

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.

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
  • 8000 BC: The last glacial ends, causing sea levels to rise and flood the Beringia land bridge, closing the primary migration route from Siberia.
  • 8000 BC: Sufficient rain falls on the American Southwest to support many large mammal species--mammoth, mastodon, and a bison species-—that soon go extinct.
  • 8000 BC: Hunters in the American Southwest use the atlatl.
  • 7500 BC: Early basketry.
  • 7560—7370 BC: Kennewick Man dies along the shore of the Columbia River in Washington State, leaving one of the most complete early Native American skeletons.[7]
  • 7000 BC: Northeastern peoples depend increasingly on deer, nuts, and wild grains as the climate warms.
  • 7000 BC: Native Americans in Lahontan Basin, Nevada mummify their dead to give them honor and respect, evidencing deep concern about their treatment and condition.
Middle Archaic
Late Archaic

See also


  • Willey, Gordon R. (1989). "Gordon Willey". In Glyn Edmund Daniel; Christopher Chippindale (eds.). The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05051-1. OCLC 19750309.


  1. ^ a b Willey, Gordon R. (1989). "Gordon Willey". In Glyn Edmund Daniel; Christopher Chippindale (eds.). The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05051-1. OCLC 19750309.
  2. ^ "Method and Theory in American Archaeology" (Digitised online by Questia Media). Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips. University of Chicago. 1958. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
  3. ^ "Archaic Period, Southeast Archaeological Center". Archived from the original on 5 December 2004. Retrieved 2004-11-28.
  4. ^ Joe W. Saunders*, Rolfe D. Mandel, Roger T. Saucier, E. Thurman Allen, C. T. Hallmark, Jay K. Johnson, Edwin H. Jackson, Charles M. Allen, Gary L. Stringer, Douglas S. Frink, James K. Feathers, Stephen Williams, Kristen J. Gremillion, Malcolm F. Vidrine, and Reca Jones, "A Mound Complex in Louisiana at 5400-5000 Years Before the Present", Science, 19 September 1997: Vol. 277 no. 5333, pp. 1796-1799, accessed 27 October 2011
  5. ^ Milanich:84-85, 90, 95
  6. ^ Russo, Michael. "Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U. S." (PDF). National Park Service. pp. 10, 27. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  7. ^ McManamon, Francis P. "Determination That the Kennewick Human Skeletal Remains are "Native American" for the Purposes of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)." National Park Service Archaeology Program. 11 Jan 2000 (retrieved 18 June 2011)
  8. ^ Saunders, Joe W. et al. "Watson Brake, a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in Northeast Louisiana" American Antiquity . Vol. 70, No. 4: 631–668. 2005
  9. ^ Clark, John E.; Gosser, Dennis (1995). Barnett, William K.; Hoopes, John W. (eds.). Reinventing Mesoamerica's First Pottery. The Emergence of Pottery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian. p. 211. ISBN 1-56098-516-X.
  10. ^ a b "Migration to Greenland." About Greenland. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  11. ^ Sara A. Herr, "The Latest Research on the Earliest Farmers," Archaeology Southwest 23, n. 1 (Winter 2009): 1
  12. ^ "Poverty Point (2000–1000 B.C.)." Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (retrieved 19 June 2011)

Further reading

  • Claassen, Cheryl (2010). Feasting with Shellfish in the Southern Ohio Valley: Archaic Sacred Sites and Rituals. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P. ISBN 1-5723-3733-8.
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1994). Archaeology of Precolumbian Florida. Gainesville, Florida: The University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1273-2.
Timeline of North American prehistory

This is a timeline of in North American prehistory, from 1000 BC until European contact.

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