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History of the Native American

Paleo Period
40,000 to 9,000 BP

*Note: BP stands for Before Present, thus 2000 BP would be 2000 years ago.

Due to the vast differences in the text books on the probable time period that early man entered North America, I used a broad date (40,000 to 9,000) to indicate the Paleo period. Many text books cite that there is no evidence of human habitation before 13,000 in North America and other sources state that there is some evidence dating back 15,000 years ago. Many archaeologists, anthropologists, and other scientific minds theorize that man could have existed in North America as far back as 40,000 years ago. This is due to the fact that there were several major shifts in the ice age at the time. It is theorized that the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska (called Beringia) was visible and walkable three different times from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago and man could have migrated at any or all these times.
The Native Americans or American Indians history probably began some 40,000 years ago. This is the earliest known date that evidence of man was found in North America. During this time the ice age was fully in swing and an ice bridge linked Asia with North America. The theory today is that the ancestors of the American Indians were actually mongoloids. The evidence is overwhelming to this fact. The scant beard, prominent cheekbones, striaght black hair, broad face, large torso, short legs, dark brown-red skin, and a tendency to slanted eyes. The early hunters followed the herds of mamoth and other animals accross the land bridge and made their way south. The earliest evidence of man in North America is from Arogrande cave in New Mexico. Found was a bunch of chipped stones and the toe bone of a horse with a spear point embeded in it. Also found was an early clay fireplace with human fingerprints in it. These items were dated to 40,000 years ago. (Overstreet 1997) To give you an idea of the time frame, it was only 47,000 years ago that the Homo Sapiens first appeared in europe. Neandrethal man was still roaming the countryside of europe at this time. At 30,000 years, the Neandrethal man started to dissapear from Europe. At 20,000 years ago, the Cro-Magnon man was alive and well. Recently the Cro-Magnon was classified as the same species as modern man. At 20,000 years ago, evidence of the paleo man coming accross the ice bridge from Asia is still evident. This wave is thought to have been the group that populated the Americas. Human occupation of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia from remains of bone, stone tools, and other artifacts were dated to this same time period. In July 1953, an amature archaeologist, Keith Glasscock, finds fluted points and bones of ancient man near Midland, Texas. These were also dated to 20,000 years ago. At 14,000 years ago the remains of an encampment is South America was found in a peat bog. (Overstreet 1997) It is rare to find a paleo point at all, and when or if you ever do find one, it generally dates to 12,000-8,000 years ago. At this time, the Wenatchee Clovis Cache was dated. Also the Folsom site near Folsom, New Mexico was dated to this time period. At 10,000 years ago, the glaciers receded and the American Indians were effectively cut off from Asia. A man of mongoloid decent was found entombed in a lake in Florida, along with a Sabre Tooth Tiger and a Giant Ground Sloth. An atl atl was also found, but it is not known if the American Indians invented the atl atl or if it was brought from Asia. (Overstreet 1997) It seems that the American Indians started farming between 7,000 and 3,000 years ago. Maize or corn is native to the Americas and was the staple grain of the region for many centuries before Europeans reached the New World. The origin of corn remains a mystery. Conclusive evidence exists, from archaeological and paleobotanical discoveries, that cultivated corn has existed in the southwestern United States for at least 3000 years. Discoveries in the Tehuacán Valley of southern Mexico have yielded evidence that wild corn existed there 7000 years ago and was not much different in fundamental botanical characteristics from the modern corn plant. (Encarta 1995) The Paleo peoples were mainly nomadic hunters that followed the herds of bison, mammoth, or mastadon. With the extinction of the mastadon around 8,000 years ago, the Paleo people had to learn new ways of finding food. Thus comes the Early Archaic age from 10,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Archaic Period
10,000 to 3,000 BP

The Archaic people were mainly hunters but farming and gathering became more a way of life as the Late Archaic period arrived. Very few farming tools are found at archaic sites, it seems that most sites were temporary hunting camps. The evidence from burial sites or excavated campgrounds is convincing that animals were frequently hunted and consumed. These animals include deer, raccoon, and waterfowl, among many other species. Fishing was a common activity during the Archaic along the coasts and rivers. The kinds of fishing, however, may have differed through time and across geographical regions. Along the upper St. Johns River in Northern Florida, within marshes and shallow lakes, small fish were found in enormous numbers in Late Archaic middens, suggesting mass-capture techniques. In different areas large fish were more common than small fish. In short, the Archaic peoples were capable of catching both small and large fish through the use of a variety of techniques which included nets, hooks, gigs, and traps. (Russo 1986) Shellfish and snails also played an important part in the subsistence of Archaic peoples. Shellfish has been suggested as one of the important factors that allowed the beginnings of permanent village life along costal areas. Among the few tools found at Archaic sites are nutting stones. These were used to crush nuts, or possibly grain. The extinction of the mastadon changed the Archaic peoples way of life so that gathering was a major part of their diet. The plants that were gathered included plants which yield seeds, nuts, fruits, roots, or greens. (Russo 1990) The Late Archaic peoples started settling down in more permanent villages as new ways of obtaining food were developed. This gave way to the Woodland period from 3,000-1,300 years ago.

Woodland Period
3,000 to 1,300 BP

The Woodland peoples were more farmers and gatherers. The bow was thought to have been invented at this time. Hunting was still an important part of their diet. The Woodland indians also began the mound building tradition. The Late Archaic peoples could have built mounds but the Woodland peoples mounds are numerous and some are large. Many mounds take the shape of effigys such as the Serpent Mound in Ohio, an embankment of earth resembling a snake nearly a quarter-mile long, is the largest and finest serpent effigy in North America. It is thought that the Adena peoples created this mound. The serpent undoubtedly was used for religious or mystical puroposes because of the time and effort that must have been spent constructing it. The builders carefully planned the effigy, first creating the form with stones or clay mixed with ashes and then covering it with basket loads of earth. (Artcom Ltd 1997) Woodland mounds are primarily burial mounds, although circular and geometric earthworks also appeared in some areas. The Early Woodland Adena culture created mounds in the central Ohio Valley of present-day southern Ohio, southeastern Indiana, northern Kentucky, and in West Virginia to as far east as Pittsburgh, Pa. The mounds were relatively small, simply built and generally enclose only a few burials. Many of the late Adena mounds were much larger (from 6 to 80 ft high), and were constructed over many years. They contained numerous burials, and some of them in log tombs. The largest and most elaborate mounds, built in southern Ohio, were complex geometric earthworks in the form of circles, rectangles, octagons, parallel walls, hilltop fortlike constructions, and other forms. The function of these earthworks is unknown to modern archaeologists. Late Woodland societies in the upper Mississippi valley of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota erected effigy mounds in the period from about 400 to 1100 AD. These burial mounds were created in the forms of bird, animals, and humans such as the Marching Bears Mound in Wisconsin. Burials were placed in the area corresponding to the heart of the effigy figures. Corn, Gourds, squash, and a variety of seed plants were cultivated by Woodland peoples. Corn or maize was not the main food crop until about 700AD. Beans became another major crop by the year 1000. The large scale farming of beans and corn started the next time period. The stable food source alowed larger and more stable villages. (Washitaw 1997)

Mississippian Period
1,300 to 400 BP

The Mississippian time period is a time of huge villages or towns, large scale farming, and fortified walls around towns. Cahokia is a huge Mississippian city that was inhabited from 700-1400 AD. The city covered six square miles and had a population of over 20,000. A wall of posts with guard towers every seventy feet surrounded the city. A stockade was built and was two miles long. It was built for defense. The Mississippian culture is thought to have arose in the Mississippi Valley near St. Louis, around the same time corn agriculture appeared in the area. This is about the time that a social structure evolved called chiefdom by anthropologists. The chiefdom was headed by a shaman who influenced farming populations. He also directed the construction mounds, palisades, regulated trade, and conducted warfare. In addition to the chief, warriors and others held positions of inluence. The majority of the population were farmers, some living within the walls of the town and others living in small villages or family units and isolated farms for miles up and down the river valley. It's believed that the people in these outlying settlements came to large mound centers such as Cahokia for seasonal ceremonies. In addition to corn and beans as the major diet of the Mississippian culture, other plant foods included squash, gourds, and sunflower. Although agriculture became larger and more complex, the Mississippian people continued to gather local wild plant foods including nuts and berries. Plants were collected for medicinal use as well. Hunting was still important as excavations showed. The bones and antlers were used as tools. The hides for clothing. Animals were also domesticated. Turkey pens have been excavated showing that an attempt at raising domesticated animals was made. The mastadon was extinct but the indians did adapt. The whitetail deer consisted of 95% of the Mississippian meat diet. Other hunted species included squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, bear, and waterfowl. The box turtle was used as a food source and supplying the material for rattles. (Markuson 1998) Fishing was also a source of food but less important than agriculture and hunting. Shellfish was used as a food source and the crushed shell used in the manufacture of pottery. The culture reached new heights in both artistic and technology. New weapons, tools, and art were manufactured. With the introduction of the white man into the Americas started a new time period.

Historic Period
450 to 170 BP

The Historic time period is a stormy time in the American Indians history. Many Native Americans were killed in white man wars, by disease and plagues, and starvation. In 1519 Hernando Cortes form Spain and 500 soldiers started looting and destroying many South American and Central American cultures such as the Maya and the Aztec. In 1540 Hernando De Soto, also of Spain, explored Florida up through Tennessee and as a result the Indian population in the Southeast was almost entirely wiped out within ten years. The infamous Trail of Tears tragedy 1838-1839 is one example in American history. In the early 1800's the white settlers began moving onto the lands belonging to the Cherokee Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River. In response to pressure from settlers, President Andrew Jackson in 1830, commissioned General Winfield Scott to remove the Cherokees who lived in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Many of these indians left voulintarily, however, more than 13,000 refused to leave. They were forced to march 1,200 miles to Oklahoma to a reservation. During the winter of 1838-39, the journey killed one-fourth of them. Because of the hardships and loss of life the Cherokee endured, it has come to be known as the "Trail of Tears." The Historic indians were more culturaly advanced and civilized in many ways than their European counterparts at the end of their long reign of the Americas. Their reign lasted from 40,000 years ago, to the day Columbus landed on the shores of America in 1492. From that fateful day in 1492, the indians were ravaged by disease such as smallpox which they had no immunity from. The French and British wars attributed to wiping out many tribes as the powers pitted one tribe against another. This ends the history of the American Indians.

If you have anything you would like me to add to the history, email me.