Copper knife, spearpoints, awls, and spud, from the Late Archaic period, Wisconsin, 3000–1000 BC

In the classification of the archaeological cultures of North America, the Archaic period in North America, taken to last from around 8000 to 1000 BC[1] 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.[2] 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.[2]


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In the organization of the system, the Archaic period followed the Lithic stage and is superseded by the Formative stage.[3]

  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 San Dieguito–Pinto, Oshara, Cochise and Chihuahua cultures.[4]

Archaic stage in North America

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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. Early mound sites such 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.[5] 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 the Southeastern Woodlands, 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. 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 2900 and 2300 BC.[6][7]


Further information: Lithic stage and Timeline of North American prehistory

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Early Archaic

Middle Archaic

Late Archaic

Simplified map of subsistence methods in the Americas at 1000 BC
  simple farming societies
  complex farming societies

Shield Archaic

The Shield Archaic was a distinct regional tradition which existed during the climatic optimum, starting around 6,500 years ago. During this warm period, forests advanced northward and temperatures were warmer than they were in the late 20th century. It is associated with the northern frontier and transition area between boreal forest and tundra in what is now northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, near Lake Athabasca. However, the Late Shield Archaic phase (3,500–4,450 BP) has sites as far as Manitoba,[9] and archaeologists have investigated suspected Shield Archaic sites as far away as Killarney Provincial Park near Georgian Bay in Ontario.[15]

The prominent Canadian archaeologist J. V. Wright argued in 1976 that the Shield Archaic had emerged from the Northern Plano tradition, but this was questioned by Bryan C. Gordon in a 1996 publication.[16] Shield Archaic tools differed in design between "forest" and "tundra" sites.[17] Pushplanes have been found, which would have been used for planing wood, bone, or antler.[18] Shield Archaic people hunted caribou, with a focus on water crossings as hunting places.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Anderson, David G.; Sassaman, Kenneth E. (2012). Recent Developments in Southeastern Archaeology: From Colonization to Complexity. Washington, DC: Society for American Archaeology Press.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Willey, Gordon; Phillips, Philip (1958), Method and Theory in American Archaeology, University of Chicago[ISBN missing]
  4. ^ "Archaic Period, Southeast Archaeological Center". Archived from the original on 5 December 2004. Retrieved 2004-11-28.
  5. ^ "A Mound Complex in Louisiana at 5400–5000 Years Before the Present" 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, Reca Jones, Science, 19 September 1997: Vol. 277 no. 5333, pp. 1796–1799, doi:10.1126/science.277.5333.1796
  6. ^ Milanich 1994, p. 84-85, 90, 95.
  7. ^ Russo, Michael. "Archaic Shell Rings of the Southeast U. S." (PDF). National Park Service. pp. 10, 13–15, 27. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 15, 2012. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  8. ^ 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)
  9. ^ a b Gordon 1996, p. 199.
  10. ^ Saunders, Joe W. et al. "Watson Brake, a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in Northeast Louisiana" American Antiquity . Vol. 70, No. 4: 631–668. 2005
  11. ^ Clark, John E.; Gosser, Dennis (1995). Barnett, William K.; Hoopes, John W. (eds.). Reinventing Mesoamerica's First Pottery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian. p. 211. ISBN 1-56098-516-X. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ a b "Migration to Greenland."About Greenland. Retrieved 28 February 2012. Archived 5 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Sara A. Herr, "The Latest Research on the Earliest Farmers", Archaeology Southwest 23, n. 1 (Winter 2009): 1
  14. ^ Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. (October 2003). "Poverty Point (2000–1000 B.C.)" Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (retrieved 19 June 2011)
  15. ^ Storck 1974.
  16. ^ Gordon 1996, p. 201.
  17. ^ Gordon 1996, p. 208.
  18. ^ Gordon 1996, p. 215.
  19. ^ Gordon 1996, p. 200.


Further reading