Looking at Prehistory:
Indiana's Hoosier National Forest Region, 12,000 B.C. to 1650

Looking at Prehistory:
Late Archaic Period 4,000 to 1,000 B.C.

The Late Archaic period in southern Indiana is represented by numerous archaeological sites, including small camps and large base camps established on a seasonal round that included nearly every type of habitat--the swamps, creeks, rivers, uplands, and prairie areas. A very substantial Late Archaic occupation took place within rockshelters in the Hoosier National Forest and at many sites scattered along the Ohio River and beyond. Shell mounds, consisting of huge amounts of discarded shells from the freshwater mussel, accumulated at major base camps on all the large streams and rivers along with the bones of fish, fish hooks carved from bone, polished stone atlatl weights, projectile points and many other tools and artifacts (Figures 48-50, 52). Such sites as Crib Mound in Spencer County, Breeden in Harrison County, and Bono in Lawrence County, are notable shell mound sites (Figure 51).

Figure 48: Prehistoric tools made from the bones of deer, fish, birds and other animals. Many of these were used to punch holes for stitching buckskin clothes and hide coverings, as well as weaving, basketry, and many other uses. Rodent incisors made good wood carving tools (upper left). The catfish spine (center) would work well almost without modification as a needle or punch.

Figure 49: Carved bonefish hooks and a net weight from Crib Mound and the Elrod site, Clark County, IN. While quite suitable for individual angling, such items were probably used in multiple sets and combined in ingenious ways with the use of nets, fish weirs and other equipment. Depending on the time of year, the depth of the water, fishing location, number of fisherman, and the desired catch, everything from spears to clubs and poisons were probably also typically employed in fishing.

Bone preservation is poor at many prehistoric sites. Great numbers of fish hooks were probably used and left at summer base camps along all the major streams. Unfortunately, over time they deteriorated in the acid soil along with countless other perishable tools and artifacts.

Figure 50: An atlatl handle and hook fragment carved from deer antler recovered from Crib Mound and Clark's Point, Clark County, IN.

Figure 51: An early photograph of Crib Mound as it was being rapidly eroded by the Ohio River. The millions of mussel shells discarded in prehistory helped preserve many otherwise perishable artifacts made from bone and antler.

Figure 52: Middle to Late Archaic period atlatl weights of schist and rose quartz.

Highly decorative carved bone pins, pendants, gorgets, bone awls and other tools are commonly preserved in the shell mounds and the drier sediments in the shelters of the region (Figures 53-54). In addition, a few pieces of preserved fiber and sinew cordage that are seldom preserved in archaeological sites have been recovered from investigations of Wyandotte Cave, Indian Cave and possibly Rockhouse Hollow. Late Archaic people living in the hill country collected substantial numbers of mussels along the shoals of the Ohio and White Rivers that were sometimes carried several miles inland from the river to be disposed of after meals in rockshelters and other camp sites. The Bono site, for example, is located on a bluff top and the mussels had to be carried up the steep hillside to the site where the shellfish were eaten and the shells discarded (Figure 55).

Figure 53: Archaic and Woodland period tools made from deer, bird and other animal bones. The antler was partially sawed through with stone tools and then snapped to extract desired pieces. Bone tools are common in all prehistoric time periods but are found only when the soil chemistry and environmental conditions allow bone to be preserved.

Figure 54: Carved and decorated bone pins and an ornament from Crib Mound. The fine incising was probably done with stone tools and sharpened rodent incisors.

Figure 55: Fresh water mussel and snail shell from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter, including beads and pendants made from the shell.

The French Lick and Maple Creek phases are local cultural designations for the Late Archaic period in the region centering on the Patoka Reservoir and along the Ohio River. Karnak, McWhinney, Matanzas and Brewerton Eared projectile points are the dominant projectile point technologies of the time (Figure 56-57). A seasonal round was well established. It consisted of summer and fall base camps at stream confluences along the major rivers and fall and winter hunting camps in rockshelters and various open sites. Matanzas appears to be a smaller continuation of the earlier side notched tradition, whereas the others appear to be unrelated technological developments. It remains unknown if the Brewerton Eared technology expands down the Ohio River Valley from the Northeastern United States or if it is only a local variation in the same tradition that produced Matanzas within the central Ohio Valley. There was a heavy emphasis on deer hunting and the collecting and processing of nuts of all kinds (e.g. hickory, acorn, walnut, butternut, chestnut), as well as starchy and oily seeds and some horticulture at this time to boost food production.

Figure 56: Matanzas and Brewerton Eared projectile points from various sites in the hill country. Many specimens with blunt-ends are unifacially flaked for use as scrapers to clean and dress hides.

Figure 57: Late Archaic Stemmed cluster projectile points from sites in the hill country.

Over-hunting of deer along the major rivers may have been a major reason why people began using small tributary streams and uplands over all landscapes. In addition, the problem of rapidly growing local populations required the use of more land for hunting and collecting to feed more families. Another reason for the widespread use of all landscapes was the active exploration for microhabitats where edible plants of all types grow in profusion. Besides the intensive use of collected nuts for food, we know people all over the Midwest were using seeds and probably greens of all types of edible plants for food and medicine. We know this from soil samples collected from excavations that have been washed carefully to extract small carbonized seeds and other remains (Figure 58) and then later identified (e.g. flotation samples). While the heavy use of nuts is indicated at this time from many open sites and rockshelters, a fragment of squash rind was recently recovered from Indian Cave. This site is now added to the small list of archaeological sites in the Midwest where this plant has been identified. Squash was utilized as early as 5,000 B.C. and its importance as food continues to increase until it is finally regular food grown in farms along with other wild and domesticated plants in the Late Woodland and Mississippian periods.

Figure 58: Soil samples recovered during an excavation are being washed through a fine mesh (flotation) to recover charred seeds, nuts, and wood charcoal for later identification. Indiana University field school, 1980. Today we have specialized flotation machines that circulate the water and make the process more efficient and also recover more fragile charred material with less damage.

Evidence for the preparation of pits probably with skin liners to boil water with hot rocks is a common theme on Late Archaic base camps in open locations on the landscape. Base camps often have tremendous amounts of fire cracked rocks in the middens. These rocks fractured from the thermal shock of constantly rotating hot rocks in and out of fires to boil water in nut filled containers. Boiling methods presumably increased the volume and efficiency in the process of extracting nut meat and oil from hickory nuts, acorns and other collected nuts to make more food available. This marks an improvement in food production, undoubtedly to feed growing families and larger groups of people (Figures 59-60). The evidence we may have for this at many rockshelters is mostly circumstantial, as these sandstone alcoves naturally produced thousands of pieces of rock fallen from the ceilings that could have been readily used for this purpose although some pieces are reddened from burning. In any case, had rounded river pebbles or other foreign rocks been transported to the rockshelters, their presence would be a more obvious testimony to the stone boiling technology at this type of site.

Figure 59: A large nutting stone with multiple pits to make the work of cracking large volumes of nuts more efficient. Imagine several families involved in transporting collected nuts in baskets back to a seasonal camp where they would crack the nuts using several large nutting stones and stone hammers. They would then boil, parch, and cook the nutmeat for making breads, soups and other foods and also extract the nut oil for various uses. Late Archaic people sought ways to make food production more efficient and began growing and tending wild plant foods. Creating a surplus allowed them to store prepared food for lean times and focus on making craft items for exchange and trade with other groups.

Figure 60: Sandstone abrader and nutting stone from Rockhouse Hollow Shelter. The groove on the abrader was probably a slot where wood and bone tools could be shaped and sharpened.

Toward the end of the Archaic, the Riverton and other cultures appear. The Riverton people employed rather small side and corner notched projectile points to arm their spears that were often made from small chert pebbles collected from river gravel. They also left substantial middens of dark organic soil at their base camps testifying to the intensity at which they harvested and processed a wide range of animals and plant foods. The Riverton people, along with other cultural groups, are recognized mainly by the projectile point types they produced such as Buck Creek Barbed, Turkey-tail, and Ledbetter, etc. These peoples occupied all areas of southern Indiana including the hill country of the Hoosier National Forest (Figure 61).

Figure 61: Late Archaic period projectile points including Table Rock cluster, Ledbetter, Buck Creek Barbed, and Riverton cluster types from bottom to top.

Beginning about 2,500 B.C. the Late Archaic period in the Midwest is marked by long distance trade in copper, marine shell and other items coming from the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast areas. Although located nearly midway between these source regions, none of the sites within the Hoosier National Forest show evidence of being the final destinations for exotic trade goods, but people in the area probably had a direct involvement in the trade nonetheless. Copper came mostly in the form of beads, bracelets and awls, and less often in lumps of raw copper (Figure 62). Marine shell was often made into beads and other decorative items such as gorgets. Many other kinds of perishable goods could have been used for exchange and payment for moving marine shell, copper, and other articles through tribal territories to destinations many miles away. The perishable goods no longer survive as testimony to the vast exchange network in commodities that must have existed. Some of the trade routes probably utilized the ridge tops for easier movement north to south through the hill country.

Figure 62: Copper and shell artifacts. The large shell item is a "sandal-sole" gorget. The copper spear on the left is typical of the Lake Superior region where the copper was mined. Such items, if they were traded south, may have been reformed into beads, awls, and bracelets because few, if any, spears of this type have been found outside of the Great Lakes area.

One important trade commodity which was made at the Wyandotte chert quarries near Corydon was the Turkey-tail point (Figure 63). Many large sites in the vicinity of Harrison County show intensive industries were active producing numerous thin and finely crafted Turkey-tails for use in a vast trade that distributed them into Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario. These are called Turkey-tail "caches" that consisted of several to many fine specimens that were kept together as a group. Excavations of Turkey-tail caches often show the specimens were nested together, suggesting they were bundled for safekeeping during transport. Once arriving at their destination, they were not used for everyday tools but, perhaps, kept within their original containers and soon placed in honored graves or buried as offerings to deities in the spirit world. Some of these caches were intentionally broken at the time of burial without the loss of any of the fragments. Turkey-tails were probably a main commodity exchanged for copper lumps, awls, beads and bracelets. Copper articles such as these were making their way south from mines on Lake Superior to destinations to the south in Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana. One fine Turkey-tail cache is recorded for a site in Orange County which, along with other information, suggests at least some of the finest Turkey-tail caches were destined to be used in local ceremonies never to be traded out of southern Indiana.

Figure 63: Turkey-tails from sites in the hill country. The larger specimens are reconstructed from fragments surface collected over many years from a site in Orange County that were donated to the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology.

Most of the Turkey-tails made at sites in southern Indiana are utilitarian items that are not of a cache quality. This is true at many sites, even those in the region of Harrison and Crawford counties where the Wyandotte chert is found in abundance. This is because the basic Turkey-tail shape was used as an everyday tool in the local region. Many of them show they were heavily used like other stone tools, with the blades becoming shortened through resharpening and use (Figure 63). Yet, the flint-knappers who crafted the Turkey-tail cache blades were experts at using the methods for controlling the thinning and shaping process and would have required greater than average skill. One suspects that some particular families were noted for their flint knappers, who may have adopted something like a local cottage industry where expert craftsmen were free from subsistence tasks to devote large amounts of time to manufacturing fine Turkey-tail cache blades for trade.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008