Native American History


 

Native American cultures in the United States include a wide array of socially and geographically diverse groups, whose nomadic ancestors are believed to have traveled via a long-gone land bridge across the Bering Strait at least 13,000 years ago.

It is still debated whether there were one or three migrations across the Bering Strait.Three major migrations occurred, as traced by linguistic and genetic data.


The early Paleoamericans soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. By 8000 BCE the North American climate was very similar to today's.

A study published in 2012 gives genetic backing to the 1986 theory put forward by linguist Joseph Greenberg that the Americas must have been populated in three waves, based on language differences.

Some archaeologists divide the archaeological record in the Americas into five phases:

Lithic stage

Defined by the ostensible prevalence of big-game hunting. In most places, this can be dated to before 8000 BCE, starting most probably around 16,500 BCE (see Paleo-Indians). Examples include the Clovis culture and Folsom tradition groups.

The Archaic stage

Defined by the increasingly intensive gathering of wild resources with the decline of the big-game hunting lifestyle. Typically, Archaic cultures can be dated from 8000 to 1000 BCE. Examples include the Archaic Southwest, the Arctic small tool tradition, the Poverty Point culture, and the Chan-Chan culture in southern Chile.

The Formative stage

Defined as "village agriculture" based. Most of these can be dated from 1000 BCE to 500 CE. Examples include the Dorset culture, Zapotec civilization, Mimbres culture, Olmec, Woodland, and Mississippian cultures.

The Classic stage

Defined as "early civilizations", and typically dating from 500 to 1200 CE. Willey and Phillips considered only cultures from Mesoamerica and Peru to have achieved this level of complexity. Examples include the early Maya and the Toltec.

The Post-Classic stage

Defined as "later prehispanic civilizations" and typically dated from 1200 CE until the advent of European colonisation. The late Maya and the Aztec cultures were Post-Classic.

Numerous Paleoindian cultures occupied North America, with some arrayed around the Great Plains and Great Lakes of the modern United States of America and Canada, as well as adjacent areas to the West and Southwest.

According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living on this continent since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories.

Other tribes have stories that recount migrations across long tracts of land and a great river, believed to be the Mississippi River. Genetic and linguistic data connect the indigenous people of this continent with ancient northeast Asians.

Archeological and linguistic data has enabled scholars to discover some of the migrations within the Americas.

However they arrived, the Native Americans of North America dispersed over many thousands of years and became hundreds of distinct cultural groups, speaking many different languages.

The Clovis Culture

The Clovis culture, a megafauna hunting culture, is primarily identified by use of fluted spear points. Artifacts from this culture were first excavated in 1932 near Clovis, New Mexico.

The Clovis culture ranged over much of North America and also appeared in South America. The culture is identified by the distinctive Clovis point, a flaked flint spear-point with a notched flute, by which it was inserted into a shaft. Dating of Clovis materials has been by association with animal bones and by the use of carbon dating methods.

Recent reexaminations of Clovis materials using improved carbon-dating methods produced results of 11,050 and 10,800 radiocarbon years BP (roughly 9100 to 8850 BCE).

The Folsom Culture

The Folsom Tradition was characterized by use of Folsom points as projectile tips, and activities known from kill sites, where slaughter and butchering of bison took place. Folsom tools were left behind between 9000 BCE and 8000 BCE.

Na-Dene' and Athabaskan Peoples

Na-Dené-speaking peoples entered North America starting around 8000 BCE, reaching the Pacific Northwest by 5000 BCE, and from there migrating along the Pacific Coast and into the interior.


Linguists, anthropologists and archeologists believe their ancestors comprised a separate migration into North America, later than the first Paleo-Indians. They migrated into Alaska and northern Canada, south along the Pacific Coast, into the interior of Canada, and south to the Great Plains and the American Southwest.

They were the earliest ancestors of the Athabascan- speaking peoples, including the present-day and historical Navajo and Apache. They constructed large multi-family dwellings in their villages, which were used seasonally.

People did not live there year-round. They left for the summer to hunt and fish, and to gather food supplies for the winter.

The Oshara Tradition

The Oshara Tradition people lived from 5500 BCE to 600 CE. They were part of the Southwestern Archaic Tradition centered in north-central New Mexico, the San Juan Basin, the Rio Grande Valley, southern Colorado, and southeastern Utah.

Middle Archaic Culture

Since the 1990s, archeologists have explored and dated eleven Middle Archaic sites in present-day Louisiana and Florida at which early cultures built complexes with multiple earthwork mounds.

They were societies of hunter-gatherers rather than the settled agriculturalists believed necessary according to the theory of Neolithic Revolution to sustain such large villages over long periods.

The prime example is Watson Brake in northern Louisiana, whose 11-mound complex is dated to 3500 BCE, making it the oldest, dated site in the Americas for such complex construction. It is nearly 2,000 years older than the Poverty Point site.

Construction of the mounds went on for 500 years until they were abandoned about 2800 BCE, probably due to changing environmental conditions.

Late Archaic Culture

Poverty Point culture is a Late Archaic archaeological culture that inhabited the area of the lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding Gulf Coast. The culture thrived from 2200 BCE to 700 BCE.

Evidence of this culture has been found at more than 100 sites, from the major complex at Poverty Point, Louisiana (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) across a 100-mile (160 km) range to the Jaketown Site near Belzoni, Mississippi.


Poverty Point is a 1 square mile (2.6 km2) complex of six major earthwork concentric rings, with additional platform mounds at the site. Artifacts show the people traded with other Native Americans located from Georgia to the Great Lakes region.

This is one among numerous mound sites of complex indigenous cultures throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. They were one of several succeeding cultures often referred to as mound builders.

The Woodland Period

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1,000 CE in the eastern part of North America.

The term "Woodland" was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites dated between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures.

The Hopewell Tradition

The Hopewell tradition is the term for the common aspects of the Native American culture that flourished along rivers in the northeastern and midwestern United States from 200 BCE to 500 CE.


The Hopewell tradition was not a single culture or society, but a widely dispersed set of related populations, who were connected by a common network of trade routes, known as the Hopewell Exchange System.

At its greatest extent, the Hopewell exchange system ran from the Southeastern United States into the southeastern Canadian shores of Lake Ontario.

Within this area, societies participated in a high degree of exchange; most activity was conducted along the waterways that served as their major transportation routes. The Hopewell exchange system traded materials from all over the United States.

Pacific Coast Culture

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast were of many nations and tribal affiliations, each with distinctive cultural and political identities, but they shared certain beliefs, traditions and practices, such as the centrality of salmon as a resource and spiritual symbol.

Their gift-giving feast, potlatch, is a highly complex event where people gather in order to commemorate a special events.

These events, such as, the raising of a Totem pole or the appointment or election of a new chief. The most famous artistic feature of the culture is the Totem pole, with carvings of animals and other characters to commemorate cultural beliefs, legends, and notable events.

Adena Culture

The Adena culture was a Native American culture that existed from 1000 BCE to 200 BCE, in a time known as the Early Woodland period.

The Adena culture refers to what were probably a number of related Native American societies sharing a burial complex and ceremonial system.

Coles Creek culture

The Coles Creek culture is an indigenous development of the Lower Mississippi Valley that took place between the terminal Woodland period and the later Plaquemine culture period.

The period is marked by the increased use of flat-topped platform mounds arranged around central plazas, more complex political institutions, and a subsistence strategy still grounded in the Eastern Agricultural Complex and hunting rather than on the maize plant as would happen in the succeeding Plaquemine Mississippian period.

The culture was originally defined by the unique decoration on grog-tempered ceramic ware by James A. Ford after his investigations at the Mazique Archeological Site. He had studied both the Mazique and Coles Creek Sites, and almost went with the Mazique culture, but decided on the less historically involved sites name. It is ancestral to the Plaquemine culture.

Hohokam culture

The Hohokam was a culture centered along American Southwest. The early Hohokam founded a series of small villages along the middle Gila River. They raised corn, squash and beans.

The communities were located near good arable land, with dry farming common in the earlier years of this period. They were known for their pottery, using the paddle-and-anvil technique.

The Classical period of the culture saw the rise in architecture and ceramics. Buildings were grouped into walled compounds, as well as earthen platform mounds.

Platform mounds were built along rivers as well as irrigation canal systems, suggesting these sites were administrative centers allocating water and coordinating canal labor.


Polychrome pottery appeared, and burial replaced cremation. Trade included that of shells and other exotics. Social and climatic factors led to a decline and abandonment of the area after 1400 CE.

Ancestral Puebloan culture

The Ancestral Puebloan culture covered present-day Four Corners region of the United States, comprising southern Utah, northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.

It is believed that the Ancestral Puebloans developed, at least in part, from the Oshara Tradition, who developed from the Picosa culture.


They lived in a range of structures that included small family pit houses, larger clan type structures, grand pueblos, and cliff sited dwellings.

The Ancestral Puebloans possessed a complex network that stretched across the Colorado Plateau linking hundreds of communities and population centers.

The culture is perhaps best known for the stone and earth dwellings built along cliff walls, particularly during the Pueblo II and Pueblo III eras.

Mississippian culture

The Mississippian culture which extended throughout the Ohio and Mississippi valleys and built sites throughout the Southeast, created the largest earthworks in North America north of Mexico, most notably at Cahokia, on a tributary of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois.

The ten-story Monks Mound at Cahokia has a larger circumference than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan or the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The 6 square miles (16 km2) city complex was based on the culture's cosmology/

It included more than 100 mounds, positioned to support their sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, and built with knowledge of varying soil types.

The society began building at this site about 950 CE, and reached its peak population in 1,250 CE of 20,000–30,000 people, which was not equalled by any city in the present-day United States until after 1800.

Cahokia was a major regional chiefdom, with trade and tributary chiefdoms located in a range of areas from bordering the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Kincaid c. 1050–1400 CE, is one of the largest settlements of the Mississippian culture, it was located at the southern tip of present-day U.S. state of Illinois.

Kincaid Mounds has been notable for both its significant role in native North American prehistory and for the central role the site has played in the development of modern archaeological techniques.

The site had at least 11 substructure platform mounds (ranking fifth for mound-culture pyramids).

Artifacts from the settlement link its major habitation and the construction of the mounds to the Mississippian period, but it was also occupied earlier during the Woodland period.

The Mississippian culture developed the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, the name which archeologists have given to the regional stylistic similarity of artifacts, iconography, ceremonies and mythology.

The rise of the complex culture was based on the people's adoption of maize agriculture, development of greater population densities, and chiefdom-level complex social organization from 1200 CE to 1650 CE.

The Mississippian pottery are some of the finest and most widely spread ceramics north of Mexico. Cahokian pottery was espically fine, with smooth surfaces, very thin walls and distinctive tempering, slips and coloring.

Iroquois Culture

The Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House", based in present-day upstate and western New York, had a confederacy model from the mid-15th century.

It has been suggested that their culture contributed to political thinking during the development of the later United States government. Their system of affiliation was a kind of federation, different from the strong, centralized European monarchies.

Leadership was restricted to a group of 50 sachem chiefs, each representing one clan within a tribe; the Oneida and Mohawk people had nine seats each; the Onondagas held fourteen; the Cayuga had ten seats; and the Seneca had eight.

Representation was not based on population numbers, as the Seneca tribe greatly outnumbered the others.

When a sachem chief died, his successor was chosen by the senior woman of his tribe in consultation with other female members of the clan; property and hereditary leadership were passed matrilineally.

Decisions were not made through voting but through consensus decision making, with each sachem chief holding theoretical veto power.

The Onondaga were the "firekeepers", responsible for raising topics to be discussed. They occupied one side of a three-sided fire (the Mohawk and Seneca sat on one side of the fire, the Oneida and Cayuga sat on the third side.)

Elizabeth Tooker, an anthropologist, has said that it was unlikely the US founding fathers were inspired by the confederacy, as it bears little resemblance to the system of governance adopted in the United States.

For example, it is based on inherited rather than elected leadership, selected by female members of the tribes, consensus decision-making regardless of population size of the tribes, and a single group capable of bringing matters before the legislative body.

Long-distance trading did not prevent warfare and displacement among the indigenous peoples, and their oral histories tell of numerous migrations to the historic territories where Europeans encountered them.

The Iroquois invaded and attacked tribes in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky and claimed the hunting grounds. Historians have placed these events as occurring as early as the 13th century, or in the

17th century Beaver Wars.

Through warfare, the Iroquois drove several tribes to migrate west to what became known as their historically traditional lands west of the Mississippi River.

Tribes originating in the Ohio Valley who moved west included the Osage, Kaw, Ponca and Omaha people.

By the mid-17th century, they had resettled in their historical lands in present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The Osage warred with Caddo-speaking Native Americans, displacing them in turn by the mid-18th century and dominating their new historical territories.
Native American Genealogy                  Native American History by State
What's New:

 

Subcategories

Article Index:

Abenaki History Overview

Native Americans have occupied northern New England for at least 10,000 years. Abenaki History shows no proof these ancient residents were ancestors of the Abenaki, but there is no reason to think they were not. The Abenaki lived in a … Continue reading

Dad finds Thanksgiving history lesson lacking

Previous Views 1767 Well, Whatever  Today’s dissertation is brought to you by the letter ‘D,’ as in “discovery, and other ‘dis’ words like “disrespect,” “disgrace” and “displace.”  Yeah, words like dat. But let me begin this discourse where it began, … Continue reading

It was only 80 years ago that Indians won the right to vote

When Paul Martin got the vote, he didn’t want to miss his chance. It was 1924, and Martin – like most other American Indians – had just been made a citizen. On Election Day, he headed for the polls. It was … Continue reading

Sandy Lake Tragedy
Traditional War Stories & Wounded Knee 1973
What is genocide?