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Missouri Prehistory  

Missouri's archaeological record reflects human adaptations to changing environments, technologies, and social and population conditions.  Archaeologists have divided the overall sequence into a number of cultural/temporal "periods" based on identifiable large-scale cultural and technological changes.  The timeframes of these periods can differ among archaeologists and shift as new information is unearthed and old data reinterpreted.

The Paleo-Indian Period (12,000-8500 B.C.) is generally recognized as representing the earliest human occupation in North America.  Prior to 12,000 B.C., the region was most likely a open spruce woodland/tundra environment.  Drying and warming trends begin from 12,000 B.C. to 8500 B.C. resulting in the elimination of the spruce woodland/tundra and the development of the oak/hickory forest environment of today.  Paleo-Indians probably lived as small bands of nomadic hunters whose quarry included now extinct large game such as mastodons, mammoths, and giant bison.  Characteristic projectile point types were fluted lanceolate styles.

The Dalton Period (8500-7500 B.C.) is the transitional period from the Paleo-Indian big game hunting tradition to the broader hunting-gathering tradition of Archaic peoples.  Dalton period assemblages commonly include late examples of fluted lanceolate projectile point forms and the distinctive Dalton projectile point, which is a lanceolate with serrated edges, parallel lateral margins smoothed by heavy grinding, and a deep, thinned, concave base.

The Early Archaic Period (7500-6000 B.C.) is generally characterized as a time when human populations in the Midwest were expanding their subsistence activities to exploit a greater number of ecological niches.  The transition from a spruce woodland/tundra to the oak/hickory forest was complete by 6500 B.C.  The exploitation of plant resources appears to have expanded, although hunting, as evidenced by tool kits, remained important.  Projectile point types included the addition of side and corner notched forms.

The Middle Archaic Period (6000-3000 B.C.) is marked by a major climatic drying and/or warming period, the Hypsithermal, which occurred approximately 6500 B.C. to 3000 B.C.  The Hypsithermal resulted in the expansion of prairies and the subsequent retraction of forests into river and stream valleys.  The relatively intensive use of the upland prairies during the Early Archaic period was dramatically curtailed during the Middle Archaic period and replaced with a more focused exploitation of riverine environments.  Multi-seasonal base camps and permanent habitation sites, reflecting increased sedentism, became more common during this period.  The first evidence of fabrics, basketry, and cordage along with new tool types, such as grooved axes and celts, appeared during this time.

The Hypsithermal ended during the Late Archaic Period (3000-750 B.C.).  The increases in precipitation and slight decreases in temperatures beginning around 3000 B.C. allowed for renewed forest development and a contraction of the prairies.  The Late Archaic period is the culmination of the trend towards a diversified, foraging and subsistence economy.  Known sites of this period are characterized by a great diversity in number, type, and size and reflect specialized adaptation to specific regional environments.  Gourd and squash remains from the period are the earliest evidence of midwestern horticulture.  Late Archaic artifacts included large notched, stemmed, and lanceolate shaped projectile points, digging tools, numerous plant processing tools, and the earliest pottery in the Midwest.  While not widespread, Late Archaic burial mounds are found in some areas of the state.

Remains from the Early Woodland Period (750-150 B.C.) are rare in Missouri and it appears that the Late Archaic cultural pattern persisted throughout most of the state.  Where represented, Early Woodland remains are characterized by square and contracting stemmed projectile points and the increased use of ceramic pots to prepare food.

As with the Early Woodland Period, Middle Woodland Period (150 B.C.-A.D. 400) remains are not distributed across the entire state.  Where present, Middle Woodland remains reflect an increased use of pottery with ceramic decorative styles becoming more varied.  Sedentism and the intentional cultivation of plants increased further.  Burial mounds became more numerous.  One Middle Woodland culture, the Hopewell, developed a complex, socially stratified society in which well made and highly decorated ceramic vessels and long distance trade items including conch shells, galena, obsidian, mica, and grizzly bear teeth were used to identify social status.

The Late Woodland Period (A.D. 400-1000) is characterized by the introduction of the bow and arrow and the widespread cultivation of a number of plants, including maize.  Late Woodland settlement patterns and subsistence strategies reflect a re-expansion into and exploitation of upland areas.  Typical site types include villages or hamlets along stream valleys and small earthen and stone cairns or mounds located on hills and ridges overlooking the villages.  Exotic trade items such as Gulf Coast marine shell beads were traded but long distance trade was substantially reduced from the preceding Middle Woodland Period.  Late Woodland pottery styles are more simplified from earlier forms and consist mostly of jar or bowl-shaped vessels tempered with crushed stone, most often limestone.  Along with the population increases and more settled lifestyle, Indian social organization changes from the loosely organized hunter/gather bands of the Archaic periods to more complex tribal societies.  In much of Missouri, Late Woodland culture continued parallel to the development of Mississippian culture.

During the Mississippian Period (A.D. 1000-1600), a culture develops based on maize agriculture with complex social, political, and economic structures. Cahokia, near the confluences of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois Rivers, was one of the greatest aboriginal cultural centers in North America.  Small notched, triangular arrowpoints and fragments of shell-tempered pottery vessels in a variety of shapes are common at these sites.  Around A.D. 1350, Oneota groups migrated south into Missouri.  The historic Missouria Tribe, who has been linked to the Oneota, inhabited the Big Bend area of Missouri until the latter part of the 18th century when they then joined the Oto in southwestern Iowa.

Missouri's Historic Period (post A.D. 1673) archaeological sites reflect the state's history.  From the first European exploration of this territory in A.D. 1673 to the Civil War, Missouri's archaeological sites consist mostly of early trading centers, river settlements, and rural farmsteads.  While pre-Civil War historic Indian sites are not common, groups living in or passing through the state include the Otoe-Missouria, Osage, Iowa, Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Sac-Fox, and Cherokee.  After the Civil War, historic sites reflect an increase in rural populations and farming activities.  By the beginning of the 20th century, the shift toward industrialization and urbanization began.  This trend continues to the present.  Below are some of the stages in Missouri’s history.

Books on Missouri Prehistory:

Chapman Carl H. and Eleanor F. Chapman
  1983     Indians and Archaeology of Missouri.  Revised addition published by the Missouri Archaeological Society of what was originally published by the University of Missouri Press in 1964 as Missouri Handbook No 5.

Chapman, Carl H.
  1975     The Archaeology of Missouri, Volume I.  University of Missouri Press, Columbia.
  1980     The Archaeology of Missouri, Volume II.  University of Missouri Press, Columbia.

O’Brien, Michael J. and W. Raymond Wood
  1998     The Prehistory of Missouri.  University of Missouri Press, Columbia.




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