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

Looking at Prehistory:
Late Woodland Period ca. A.D. 500 to 1500

Perhaps two of the most significant occurrences that mark the Late Woodland period are the appearance and wide-spread use of the bow and arrow and an emphasis on growing domesticated crops and other cultigens along with collecting wild plant foods. There is more of a sedentary lifestyle associated with agriculture, but that does not explain why the high ceremonialism of Hopewell comes to an end during the Late Woodland period. A number of distinctive variations in Late Woodland ceramics are diagnostic of the cultures or social groups they represent, but they all include some type of stone or clay tempering. The ceramics, along with other cultural traits, clearly separates them from Mississippian cultures that used shell tempering in their ceramic technology. Jack's Reef cluster (early) and unnotched triangular points (late) become widespread during the Late Woodland period (Figure 83). The former emphasis on the Wyandotte chert source for tools greatly diminishes in favor of local sources of chert. Some agricultural implements appear, along with many kinds of cultivated foods and eventually varieties of corn, beans, and squashes are developed and grown intensively at Mississippian sites. There is also evidence for the increased use and size of storage pits to preserve foods for the winter months. A number of Late Woodland phases are known, including Oliver, Albee, Newtown, and Yankeetown. Oliver phase and Yankeetown pottery have been identified at camps within the hill country of the Hoosier National Forest.

Figure 83: Arrow point variations, drills, end scrapers, and gravers. These include Jacks Reef cluster and triangular types from Oliver phase and other southern Indiana sites.

The Oliver phase people borrowed traits from Fort Ancient tradition people who occupied southeastern Indiana, southern Ohio, and northern Kentucky and also Springwells cultural manifestations that extended into Indiana from the western side of Lake Erie (Figure 84). The Oliver phase is dated from A.D. 1000 to perhaps as late as 1400, overlapping with the Mississippian occupation of southern Indiana.

Figure 84: Oliver phase decorated ceramics from the Oliver Farm, Cox's Woods, Clampitt, and Bowen sites.

The Cox's Woods site was occupied by Oliver phase families who built a double-walled earthen enclosure to encircle the site and had a number of houses in a ring around a central plaza or community area. The site is located near the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest on Hoosier National Forest property, protecting one of the few remaining stands of primary forest left in Indiana (Figure 85). Middens of refuse accumulated within the enclosure and the surrounding area from the remains of thousands of meals eaten by people living at the site over an extended period of time. Excavations documented many post-molds, marked by circular stains, following patterns indicating the locations of the houses and also storage pits, hearths, and rock concentrations containing artifacts such as pottery (Figures 86-87). Food remains collected by archaeologists show corn agriculture was combined with collected fruits, nuts and seeds and that there were significant amounts of maygrass and little barley cultivated along with the hunting of deer, elk, turkey and other animals.

Figure 85: The plan of the Cox's Woods site determined by limited test excavations over selected segments of the site. Indiana University field school, 1993.

Figure 86: Ongoing excavations at the Cox's Woods site. Indiana University field school, 1993.

Figure 87 (right): Rim of reconstructed ceramic vessel excavated from the Cox's Woods site.

From archaeological surveys in the vicinity of the site, we know these people also established smaller gardening and collecting camps away from Cox's Woods. This settlement was established in a remote location some distance from the floodplain of the East Fork of the White River and it is suspected that future studies may show Oliver phase village sites in other areas of the Hoosier National Forest. Oliver phase villages located nearby and further north have been investigated in recent years, adding greatly to our knowledge about these people (Figures 88-90). The presence of Half Moon Spring could have been a factor in the location of the Cox's Woods site, where the people could have extracted salt crystals from the saline waters at the spring for cooking, the preservation of meat and hides, as well as exchange (Figure 91).

Figure 88: A profile of an Oliver phase village in Morgan County showing a deposit of discarded mussel shells over an old swale in the White River floodplain. Indiana University field school, 1995.

Figure 89: The profile of a large Oliver phase pit feature with artifacts and refuse and food remains. Indiana University field school, 1995.

Figure 90: A large area of pit features exposed and ready for mapping at an Oliver phase site in Johnson County. Indiana University field school, 1995.

Figure 91: Deer bone "beamers" for removing the hair from animal skins from the Oliver phase Clampitt and Bowen sites.

Yankeetown phase people lived within an area encompassing the lower Ohio River Valley from southern Illinois and nearby Kentucky, the lower Wabash Valley and into south-central Indiana The phase is named for a site near Yankeetown in Warrick County, Indiana that was found deeply buried in the Ohio River bank (Figure 92). Yankeetown phase people made some of the more aesthetic pottery designs that are easily identifiable (Figure 93).

Figure 92: Deep test excavations at the Yankeetown site, Warrick County, IN by Indiana University in 1967.

Figure 93: Yankeetown phase ceramics from the Yankeetown site and Rockhouse Hollow Shelter (upper left).

Some Yankeetown families took up residence at Rockhouse Hollow shelter for a limited time around A.D. 900-1000. We know this because they left fragments of their distinctive ceramic vessels in the shelter. There are likely to be more sites found in the future within the Hoosier National Forest that were occupied by Yankeetown peoples. One suspects, however, the main use of the hill country by people of the Yankeetown phase may have been in the form of limited hunting and collecting camps in a variety of settings, including rockshelters and open sites. Their larger base settlements and summer gardening camps were established along the floodplain of the Ohio River.

The other Late Woodland groups were dispersed across central Indiana and a wider area that did not expand to any degree into south-central Indiana. One large rim sherd that was found in excavations within Arrowhead Arch in Crawford County may be significant (Figures 94-95). It can be attributed to either Oliver phase people from the north, or Fort Ancient, Anderson phase people coming from the east near Cincinnati. This is another example of limited use by perhaps single families that probably carried the pottery with them as they moved up into the hill country on hunting and collecting trips. The Albee phase is not well-known outside of central Indiana, within the Wabash and White River drainages. The Newtown phase is apparently restricted to southeastern Indiana.

Figure 94: A profile of the deposits during excavations at Arrowhead Arch by Indiana University in 1984. Note the changes in soil color and consistency marking differences in the human use of the site. The light color of the upper part is due to overlapping ash lenses with rodent burrows. The dark area on the left marks a looter's pit that destroyed valuable information about the sites history.

Figure 95: A reconstructed portion of a ceramic vessel recovered from Arrowhead Arch.

While the Late Woodland use of the hill country in the Hoosier National Forest may appear to be limited compared to other prehistoric time periods, we must consider that much is still unknown and remains to be documented. Thus, it is imperative that interested persons, avocational archaeologists and professionals collaborate to record information about the archaeology of the wider region. A major effort has been underway in recent years to investigate the many Late Woodland and other cultures that left their remains in Indiana. Laypersons can help save important sites and information about the prehistory of southern Indiana by reporting acts of looting and vandalism and notifying authorities about the existence of archaeological sites. Archaeologists rely on the good faith efforts of the public to tell them about local discoveries so that the information can help clarify what we know about the settlement systems of prehistoric peoples in the Late Woodland period of the hill country and the many cultures that came before and after this time.

While there is a temporal overlap between Late Woodland cultures and those of the Mississippian period, many Mississippian traits, including village organization, mound building, trade and ceremonial habits are substantially different. Long before Mississippian period cultures expanded north from the southeastern United States however, many Late Woodland period cultures had evolved from the local Middle Woodland cultures and were dispersed throughout much of the Northeast Great Lakes, and Ohio Valley. We now know that Late Woodland groups continued to occupy a number of areas in Indiana throughout the following Mississippian period, and there appears to have been interaction on a number of fronts between Late Woodland and Mississippian groups, though each apparently retained their own cultural identity. There is evidence at Cahokia in Illinois and other Mississippian centers that groups with traditional Late Woodland cultural affiliation were sometimes incorporated into Mississippian society. One must also consider that such factors as politics, economics, and warfare presented a dynamic situation involving groups being incorporated and later splitting into smaller communities to live again as they once did. Groups splitting away from a major town center could have populated a new area or, when possible, could have returned to an ancestral home their parents and grandparents kept alive in stories of former times. This ebb and flow of cultural associations and population movements probably also took place in Indiana. For archaeologists, the specific details of cultural dynamics are difficult to pin down because of the addition and mixing of artifacts and traits at some archaeological sites that belong to several cultural traditions and bridge two archaeological time periods.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008