The term Woodland Indians was created in 1932 to describe a prehistoric culture that was significantly different than the nomadic Archaic Indians that roamed the eastern third of the North American Continent from 6000 B. C. to about 1000 B. C. It is the third and final general cultural description applied to native people prior to the formation of tribes, the final stage of development of these prehistoric people. Were the Woodland Indians historic or prehistoric? Woodland Indians, as with all later Indian nations until the Cherokee, were prehistoric. The Cherokee adopted a written language in 1820, making them a historic tribe from that time on.
Modern corn surrounded by traditional maize Maize cultivation is a sign of Woodland Indians
The cultural development that occurred in the Archaic Indians can be seen in the change in their pottery, the first difference noted by archeologists. Early Woodland cultures made more complex forms of pottery, adding artistic touches before firing and tempering the pottery to make it better withstand the demands of the time. Designs varied greatly, and normally reflected the easily available materials in the area. Woodland Indians near the shore created patterns with shells in sand-tempered pottery while interior artists would use grasses, reeds, or a form of twine to create patterns. As the culture matured the patterns became more intricate and the North Georgia Woodlands cultures began tempering the clay pots with fiber.
A second shift occurred in conjunction with the increased intricacy of pottery designs that is also used by archeologists to differentiate between the Archaic culture and the Woodland culture. In general the nomadic, subsistence ways of the Archaic hunters were slowly replaced by Woodland farmers, although this change, once thought to have occurred with dramatic speed probably took nearly a thousand years. As they settled, Woodland cultures left more clues for archeologists to work with. For example, remains of wood structures can normally be detected when excavating a non-nomadic Woodland site.
It appears that the earliest groups in the Southeast who became less nomadic and produced more intricate pottery were coastal Archaic Indians around 2000 B. C. They could grow small crops, mostly squash-like plants and beans, and add fish to get the majority of nourishment. Archeologists refer to the period between 2000BC and 1000 BC as transitional or formational because during that time some, but not all, tribes exhibited signs of the change. By 1000 BC the interior Archaic cultures had also begun to settle down and Woodland sites begin to show evidence of nearby cultivation and dwellings. Tools designed to be used in planting, cutting and serving food are found to increase as a Woodland site matured. During this period some groups of Woodland Indians were still nomadic and prospered because of available non-cultivated food including meat, fish, nuts and berries.
Between 500BC and 300AD a cultural movement from the west brought new pottery styles into North Georgia. The change is important because it indicated an increased sphere of influence for a settlement and perhaps reciprocal trade (trade with other Woodland groups). It is also possible that this change reflects the earliest influence in North Georgia of Archaic Moundbuilders from Poverty Point or Adena Moundbuilders from the Ohio and Upper Mississippi. This period is generally referred to as Middle Woodland.
Among the trade goods used by the North Georgia Woodlands Indians are mica and quartz while they received copper, obsidian and galena. In general, the economic stimulus brought about by the increase in trade probably also saw the earliest stages of tribal formation, but this would be similar to rudimentary clan-like groups to protect resources like food and field important to the survival of the culture.
During the Middle Woodland period throughout the North American continent, most nomadic tribes began to form permanent settlements. Only in the area east of the Mississippi River and south of the Cumberland River did a large number of nomadic groups continue to exist. Archeologists believe that abundant game, especially deer, made it possible for some groups to continue their nomadic ways. Near the end of Middle Woodland Era the bow and arrow entered into common use. The change in technology changed much of the Woodland society. For example, fortifications around settlements became more common
Southeastern Woodland Indians and French Explorer Rene Goulaine De Laudonniere
In 500 AD the Late Woodland Period began, and is generally marked by a cultural collapse as the Hopewellian Moundbuilder trading network failed. It is possible that the change in the trading network precipitated the drop in the cultural level of the Native Woodland Indians. Some archeologists believe that the introduction of the bow and arrow lead to the collapse of the Woodlands culture. Theorizing that the increase in available food led to a increase in population, the Woodland Indians reached a level the communities could no longer support. The final theory for the change that precipitated the Late Woodland Period is a corresponding change in weather patterns. Indeed, weather from around 500 AD to 800 AD was cooler and dryer.
In the Southeast, however, the Late Woodland Period showed a marked increase in cultural expansion. The introduction of the bow and arrow about 300 AD made hunting easier than ever. The Late Woodland Era Indians became more adept at growing beans and squash and added a corn-like grain called maize to their diets. Early grouping of clans began to develop in the Cherokee Nation, however, the tribes that would become the Creek Nation were only loosely organized.
Around 1000 AD to 1200 AD another change began in the Southeast. It marked the beginning of the end of the nomadic Woodland clans, a further increase in the support of villages through an increase in agriculture, much more intricate pottery including the firing of pieces of a ceremonial nature (gorgets and pipes), and for personal adornment, including dress pieces (beads, tasseled body ornaments) and headdresses. Archeologists now refer to this area as the Southeast Ceremonial Complex because of the noted differences between the Late Woodland Period.
The rise of the Southern Cult (Southeastern Ceremonial Complex) is closely associated with the arrival of the Mississippian Moundbuilders. While archeologists are unsure what exactly occurred in the transformation of the indigenous Native People, most Late Woodland clans shared in the advances brought by the Mississippians. The advances sparked by the rise of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, the era of the Woodland Indians came to an end. One of the first European contacts for these Southeastern Indians was Rene Goulaine De Laudonniere, a French explorer.
As the Woodland Indians clans grew into tribes, specifically to deal with other tribes, the English, Spanish, and, later, Americans the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex came to end and villages, the smallest political entity, grew. When the tribal structure was initially formed, the power continued to reside with towns and villages. As the Southeastern tribes grew they became Catawba, and Chickasaw and Creek Indians. The Cherokee Indians exhibited tribal formation before moving into present-day Georgia, but most anthropologists believe the Cherokee assimilated local Woodland Indians in their movement south and west.