home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE

previous | next

North Americans, 1000 BCE to 500 CE

The discovery of stone tools on the Beatton River in British Columbia, Canada, date human habitation there to at least 9,500 BCE. The climate and natural resources made possible the rise of a complex culture in the area, extending to what are today Washington and Oregon. Between 1000 BCE and 500 CE, people in these areas lived in villages and houses built of wood. They were moving about in dugout canoes, living off of fish, shellfish and game. They had time to develop fine arts and crafts, and they were devoted to religious and social ceremonies.

Elsewhere in North America after 1000 BCE, in what is called the Early Woodland Period, various societies thrived in what today are Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York. They had what anthropologists describe as Adena Culture. Adena culture included hunting and gathering, and there was some settled living. Evidence exists of incipient agriculture: the cultivation of sunflowers, pumpkins, gourds, and a spinach-like plant called goosefoot. Tobacco was grown for ceremonial use.

People of the Adena culture lived close to major waterways and apparently participated extensively in trade. They made pipes of siltstone which are believed to have been in great demand.

Adena societies had a common burial complex and ceremonial system. They are known for their earth mounds built as part of a burial ritual, with baskets filled with a specially selected and graded earth, ranging in diameter between 6 and 91 meters. It is surmised that Adena burial practices reflect social stratification, that only special persons were buried in mounds.

The Adena culture is seen as a precursor to traditions of the Hopewell culture, which are sometimes thought of as an elaboration, or zenith, of Adena traditions.

Hopewell Culture

Hopewell culture flourished between 200 BCE to 500 CE in what today is the northeastern and midwestern United States. They continued the hunting, fishing and perhaps shellfish gathering, and they also grew corn, squash and perhaps beans. They too lived alongside rivers, around their ceremonial centers in semi-permanent homes constructed of bent saplings covered with skins, mats and sheets of bark. Hopewell culture is believed to have been at its peak around the year 400 and centered in the woodlands of what today are Ohio and Illinois.

Trade was linked to places as far away as the Pacific Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. Tools were of stone, bone or antler, and some tools were of cold pounded copper acquired from around the Great Lakes.

People had bead necklaces, armbands and pendants. They used pottery and wooden spoons. They made clothing from the woven fibers of the soft inner bark of certain trees, and they made finely carved tobacco pipes and musical instruments such as panpikes, rattles and perhaps drums.

People took Hopewell culture from Illinois to the Upper Great Lakes and across the Missouri River to what is now Kansas City. One town of Hopewell culture was built where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet. Another was built at what is now Macon, Georgia.

Leaders in Hopewell societies didn't acquire the power and status from a possession of land that would develop in agricultural elsewhere. Lands were as yet not private property and a source of individual wealth. There was no economic class called an aristocracy. Individuals acquired status from their ability to persuade others to agree with them on important matters such as trade and religion. They also are described as having developed influence from reciprocal obligations with other important members of the community. Whatever the source of their status and power, their emergence as leaders is considered a step toward the stratification called chiefdom that developed after Hopewell culture disappeared.

The Plains and Southwest

By the 400s on the plains of what is now the United States, the bow and arrow was replacing the spear, the bow and arrow giving hunters and warriors a greater striking distance. The horse, which would give tribes a greater mobility, had not yet arrived. And with plenty of game to hunt and rivers to fish, larger-scale farming and its corresponding rise in population had not developed.

In the southwest, meanwhile, hunter-gatherers were gradually settling in villages. There were the Anasazi people, who were the ancestors of the Navaho. They had moved into the region that included southern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and northern Arizona. From 200 CE they were supplementing their food gathering with the growing of maize (corn), a development derived from what today is northern Mexico. They also grew beans and squash. They began to make pit houses (the floor a foot or two below ground level) and to make pottery.

In Arizona from 200 CE were the Hohokam people, along the Salt and Gila Rivers. In centuries to come they would build irrigation canals and grew beans, corn, amaranth, agave and barley. It was a culture that in the 600s was to include ball courts. Their Casa Grande (Great House) complex, today ruins and a national monument, date from sometime between the years 1150 and 1350.

Neighboring the Hohokam were people of the Mogollon Culture, which anthropologists have dated from around the year 150 to the fifteenth century. These were people who were settling in the high-altitude desert areas in what today are New Mexico, Sonora, Chihuahua and western Texas. They have been described as initially foragers who augmented their subsistence efforts by farming. In the coming centuries, hamlets would develop composed of several pit-houses with thatch roofs and walls faced with earth. Their cliff dwelling habitation (in what today is a national park) would begin in the 1300s.


Indians of North America, Harold E Driver, 1961

"Hopewell" (for 30 different US states), Wikipedia

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.