Archaic period in North America

The Archaic period is an archaeological era in the history of North America and Central America to reaching that connects to the Paleo-Indian period. The term and its definition is controversial, as the beginning is usually for Mesoamerica 8000 BC and North America about 6000 BC, when the end depending on the observed region about 2000 BC for Mesoamerica and individual cultures of North America, 1000 BC accepted for eastern North America and various points in time between 1500 BC and about the year 500 for cultures of western North America. In several cultural regions, the Great Basin, California and on the Columbia Plateau, they did not end prior to contact with European-born whites.

In the Archaic period, people continue to live as hunter-gatherers, however, the importance of wild plants against hunting. As technologies were stone tools and wattle available. Over the period, people develop new culture techniques such as the construction of wells, at the end of the archaic period are first beginnings of agriculture, pottery and general settlement support.

Conceptual history

The term was first used in 1932 by the archaic archaeologist William A. Ritchie. He called so that a hunter - gatherer culture which he excavated in what is now the U.S. state of New York. Gordon R. Willey and Philip Phillips then used the term in their periodization of North American history in her work Method and Theory in American Archaeology, 1958 about the current importance. In the 1960s, the establishment of a clear cultural development has been questioned and considered the archaic period as a gradual transition.

Since about the 1990s, it was recognized that the transition from hunter- gatherer societies to farmers in each culture different and much slower than previously thought. The collection of wild plants played a significant role, who already knew the irrigated and the system of terraced fields in crops. It has raised the question whether the term is therefore still suitable:

" We have become so far removed from the characterization of the Archaic phase mid-twentieth century that the concept, if not simply become meaningless misleading. "

However, the term remains in use, its definition it has lost some significance. For clarification it is in the recent research between the archaeological period, which is referred to in English in capital letters as the Archaic period, and archaic ( with minuscule ) as distinguished lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer cultures in later eras.


While the preceding Paleo- Indians still everywhere in the distribution area had nearly identical diets and tools, the ways of life in the archaic period strongly differentiate between the regions of North America and their respective habitats.

  • In the Great Plains the hunt is on big game, especially the bison in the foreground. The beginning is set to about 6000 BC, the end of v. with the advent of the bow and arrow and pottery around 1500 BC
  • The Great Basin and parts of present-day California east of the Sierra Nevada are dominated by desert climate. Here the cultures developed until contact with Europeans, which took place partly in the 19th century, not the archaic phase out. Even the Fremont culture as latest clearly defined culture of the region shows only beginnings of settled life.
  • Similarly, the development was on the Columbia Plateau in the north- western North America. The beginning of the Archaic period is here difficult to date, and is 6000-3000 BC, when the end of this very late contact with whites, and the introduction of the horse will be accepted until around 1800.
  • California is well studied and even here there are several cultures that developed partly different. In the south, the Archaic period beginnings are already around 8000 BC, the latest forms begin the Christian era, and last until contact with Europeans in the 18th century.
  • Most clearly developed the archaic phase is the so-called Eastern Woodland (English: eastern woodlands ) from the Mississippi River to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. Here are the lines of development of the Dalton culture at the transition between the Paläoindianern and the archaic period to the early Archaic finds with corner notched / bifurcate projectile tips about the Middle Archaic cultures such as L' Anse Amour, Labrador and Neville site, New Hampshire to the late Archaic cultures in which the Poverty Point culture is the most prominent, almost completely understandable. The Late Archaic cultures of the Eastern Woodlands built around 4000 BC on the lower reaches of the Mississippi, the first Mounds; artificial hill, which served partly as tombs, are partially considered in their aware of the landscape changing shape as a symbol of creation as a magical but community-forming was mainly driven by the coordinated cooperation and served as a place of regular meetings. Around 1000 BC, the Woodland period, which is characterized by a settled and no longer to be regarded as archaic begins.
  • In Central America (see also: Chronology of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica ) the archaic period is characterized by a significantly earlier onset of agriculture and pottery because of the favorable climatic conditions. Here the Archaic period ends with the precursor cultures of the Maya already 2500-2000 BC