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Classical America: The East: Midwest and Great Lakes Region

Classical America: The East: Midwest and Great Lakes Region


Old Copper Culture: 40001500 b.c. Between 4000 and 1500 b.c. an Archaic culture peculiar to the Great Lakes region developed out of the Clovis-type people that originally had settled the area. Although the Old Copper people depended on hunting, gathering, and fishing for their livelihoods and made tools of a wide array of materials to exploit the forest and lake environments, their ability to work copper set them apart from their Archaic counterparts across the continent. Initially

they chipped at it like stone in order to fashion items, but over time they learned to heat the metal, which enabled them to make more elaborate and delicate decorative pieces. The value of copper goods to the regions trade is evident in the number of copper artifacts that turn up in other archaeological sites in the East.

Adena and Hopewell: 500 b.c. to 550 a.d. South of the Old Copper people lived numerous groups of Archaic Indians who developed stratified societies and who built earthen mound centers. Around 500 b.c. the Adena culture appeared in present-day southern and central Ohio, and three hundred years later another mound-building culture, Hopewell, arose in Ohio and spread much farther south. The Adena and Hopewell mounds were built in relation to the movements of the stars and the sun, and they were often designed in the shapes of birds, snakes and symbols of the sun, sky, moon, and earth. The Adena people and the Hopewellians lived adjacent to rivers so they could easily control the flow of trade goods up and down the Ohio River. Seashells from the South and minerals from the North flowed through the mound centers, and Adena and Hopewell traders linked native peoples from Florida to the Rocky Mountains. For subsistence the Mound Builders relied for the most part on the same animals and wild plants that had fed their Archaic ancestors. The ceremonial importance they attached to the dead, however, distinguished them from their Archaic predecessors. The people of Hopewell and Adena regularly buried important individuals in the mounds, usually with prestige goods such as copper jewelry, shell gorgets, ornate pipes, and so forth. The veneration accorded the dead as evidenced by the quality of the burial goods has led archaeologists to surmise that the dead bodies were those of chiefs or priests. If such special attention was lavished only on political and religious leaders, perhaps the populations of the Adena and of the Hopewell cultures were divided into classes. By 550 a.d. Hopewell and Adena had vanished. Changes in climate and trade or the availability of foodstuffs may have caused the collapse, but no one is certain.

The Upper Ohio Country: 5501600 a.d. After the disappearance of Adena and Hopewell, the populations of present-day Ohio, Indiana, northern West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania gathered in small towns and lived lifestyles typical of what archaeologists call Eastern Woodland culture. In many ways Woodland cultures were similar to Archaic ones: Woodland people blended hunting and gathering for subsistence purposes, often lived in tribes, and often followed seasonal migration patterns. Unlike Archaic people, however, Woodland people made pottery, farmed to various extents, interred the dead in elaborate burials, and often comprised large tribes that demanded a more complex social and political organization than was present in the Archaic cultures. The Foley-Farm culture, for example, was a Woodland culture that developed between 900 and 1500. These people made pottery, and they inhabited towns where the houses were positioned around central town plazas and were guarded by palisades and moats. Storage houses and bone houses, where the bones of the dead were stored, also characterized the urban landscape of the Woodland Indians of the upper Ohio. Over time the Foley-Farm culture evolved into a people Europeans called Monongahelas. What separated the historic Monongahelas from their prehistoric predecessors was their adoption of horticulture.

Fort Ancient: 10001600 a.d. Between 1000 and 1600 the Fort Ancient people of present-day Ohio and Indiana carried on much of the Mound Builders traditions. They buried many of their dead in mounds with prestige goods, and they built fortifications to protect their towns. The intensive cultivation of corn, beans, and squash separated Fort Ancient most clearly from Adena, Hopewell, Foley-Farm, and the contemporaneous Monongahelans. The historic Shawnees were most closely linked to the Fort Ancient culture because they practiced the same typical Woodland subsistence techniques and shared a similar material culture. They also hunted and gathered and lived in semipermanent towns in the summer and in scattered hunting camps in the winter.


James L. Phillips and James A. Brown, eds., Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest (New York: Academic Press, 1983);

Louise Robbins and Georg K. Neumann, The Prehistoric People of the Fort Ancient Culture of the Central Ohio Valley, Anthropological Papers, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972).

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