Poverty Point sites in Louisiana and western Mississippi exhibit the first major residential settlements and monumentalearthworks in the United States. Although the Poverty Point culture is not well understood in terms of social organization, it wasinvolved in the transportation of nonlocal raw materials (for example, shell, stone, and copper) from throughout the easternUnited States into the lower Mississippi River Valley to selected sites where the materials were worked into finished productsand then traded.
While specific information on Poverty Point subsistence, trade mechanisms, and other cultural aspects is stillspeculative, the sites nevertheless exhibit specific material culture, such as baked clay objects, magnetite plummets, steatitebowls, red-jasper lapidary work, fiber-tempered pottery, and microlithic stone tools. By around 500 B. C. , the Poverty Point culture was replaced by the Tchula/Tchefuncte Early Woodland culture, which existedin western Tennessee, Louisiana, southern Arkansas, western Mississippi, and coastal Alabama.
The sites of this lowerMississippi River Valley culture were small village settlements. Subsistence continued to consist of intensive collecting of wildplants and animals, as with the preceding Poverty Point culture, but for the first time quantities of pottery were produced. Thereappears to be a de-emphasis on long-distance trade and manufacture of lithic artwork noted in the earlier Poverty Point culture. The Tchula/Tchefuncte Early Woodland culture appears to have coexisted with some Middle Woodland cultures in the lowerMississippi River Valley. The pottery of this period appears to have been relatively crude and undecorated.
The pottery isdistinctive in being thick, poorly fired and covered on the inside and outside by cord marking. Thiscord marking was probably the result of construction techniques in which clay was formed around abasket or bag before firing. Not all Early Woodland sites had pottery and some researchers suggestthat it was used only for part of the year, perhaps during the processing of acorns or other nuts fortheir oil. During this time period burials became even more elaborate with increased inclusion of statusartifacts. Some of these exotic artifacts show clear evidence of influence and contact with even moreelaborate and complex cultural groups to the south. In these areas, clearly complex and stratifiedsocieties, probably with full time chiefs and priests, had developed and were interacting with manyother widely distributed groups across North America.
Exchange of exotic desirable goods such ascopper, silver, obsidian, sea shells and exotic, often colourful, cherts seems to have been the maingoal of this interaction sphere but, undoubtedly, the exchange of ideas was also important instimulating further development. Whether foods or furs for clothing was also exchanged is unknownat this time. The main characteristic, besides elaboration of burial practices, that distinguished the Early and Middle Woodland from LateArchaic traditions, was the gradual intensification of local and interregional exchange of exotic materials. For many yearsarcheologists have regarded as classic those Middle Woodland sites with elaborate ceremonial earthworks that contained theburial mound graves of elite individuals buried with exotic mortuary gifts obtained through an extensive trade network coveringmost of the eastern United States. Because of the similarity of earthworks and burial goods found at widely scattered sites inthe Southeast and the area north of the Ohio River, it was assumed that a cultural continuity-sometimes referred to as theHopewellian Interaction Sphere-existed throughout much of the eastern United States. At least some nonorganic trade items canbe identified from the study of the burial mounds of the Middle Woodland.
To this trade, the Middle Woodland territories ofthe Southeast appear to have provided mica, quartz crystals, and chlorite from the Carolinas, and a variety of marine shells, aswell as shark and alligator teeth, from the Florida Gulf Coast. In exchange, the Middle Woodland clans of the Southeastreceived galena from Missouri, flint from Illinois, grizzly bear teeth, obsidian and chalcedony from the Rockies, and copperfrom the Great Lakes. Standardization of style for the finished artifacts used in this trade may be attributed to a relatively smallnumber of clan leaders controlling the exchange system and developing their own symbolic artifact language of what tradegoods constituted a reciprocal exchange between clans. The Middle Woodland (200 – 300 B.
C. to A. D. 700 – 900) period is distinguished from the EarlyWoodland only in few, relatively minor, aspects. These relate to some aspects of the chipped lithictool inventory (i.
e. changes in projectile point types) and the addition of decoration of increasingelaboration to the pottery. Pottery is found on a greater percentage of sites so may have becomemore widely used in the seasonal round. There is some evidence of different cultural groups butthese differences appear mostly as style differences in pottery and may be more a result of thelimited state of knowledge for this time period.
These different traditions will be described in greaterdetail below. During the Middle Woodland period, burialceremonialism appears to have reached itspeak. It was at this time that the most exoticitems were included in burials and most ofthe known burial mounds were constructed. These include the Serpent Mound at RiceLake, a burial mound which was shapedlike a giant snake, and the mounds at RainyRiver.
Much of the elaboration in mortuaryceremonialism is attributed to contact withthe Hopewellian people in the Ohio Valley. This influence appears to end around A. D. 250 and after this time burial ceremonialismappears to decrease. Around A.
D. 500, the archeological record reveals a sharp decline in the construction of Middle Woodland burial mounds inthe Hopewellian core area of the Ohio River drainage. The decline in the construction of burial mounds is accompanied bydisruption of the long-distance trade in exotic materials and interregional art styles. Traditionally, archeologists have viewed the Late Woodland (ca.
A. D. 500 – 1000) as a time of cultural poverty. LateWoodland settlements, with the exception of sites along the Florida Gulf Coast, tended to be small when compared withMiddle Woodland sites.
Based on our present-day perspective, few outstanding works of prehistoric art or architecture can beattributed to this time period. Careful analysis, however, shows that, throughout the Southeast, the Late Woodland was a verydynamic period. Bow-and-arrow technology, allowing for increased hunting efficiency, became widespread. New varieties ofmaize, beans, and squash were introduced or gained economic importance at this time, which greatly supplemented existingnative seed and root plants. Finally, although settlement size was small, there was a marked increase in the numbers of LateWoodland sites over Middle Woodland sites, indicating a population increase.
These factors tend to give a view of the LateWoodland period as an expansive period, not one of a cultural collapse. The reasons for possible cultural degradations at the end of the Middle Woodland and the subsequent emergence of the LateWoodland are poorly understood. There are several possible explanations. The first is that populations increased beyond thepoint of carrying capacity of the land, and, as the trade system broke down, clans resorted to raiding rather than trading withother territories to acquire important resources. A second possibility is that a rapid replacement of the Late Archaic spear andatlatl with the newer bow-and-arrow technology quickly decimated the large game animals, interrupting the hunting componentof food procurement and resulting in settlements breaking down into smaller units to subsist on local resources. This ended longdistance trade and the need for elite social units.
A third possible reason is that colder climate conditions about A. D. 400 mighthave affected yields of gathered foods, such as nuts or starchy seeds, thereby disrupting the trade networks. A fourth and possibly interrelated reason is that intensified horticulture became so successful that increased agriculturalproduction may have reduced variation in food resource availability between differing areas.
This reliance on horticulture,involving only a few types of plants, would have carried with it a risk where variations in rainfall or climate could cause famineAnthropology