Late Woodland Cultures

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American Indian Life in the Late Woodland Period.jpg
Painting from the Ancient Ohio art series depicting a Late Woodland (AD 600 - AD 1200) village along the Scioto River in central Ohio.

A.D. 600 to A.D. 1200

The Late Woodland Period, though often regarded simply as the time between the decline of the remarkable Hopewell culture and the rise of the Late Prehistoric cultures*, actually is a fascinating period that witnessed dramatic cultural changes.

For reasons that are not yet clearly understood, Late Woodland cultures did not continue the Hopewell practice of building large geometric earthworks or importing large quantities of exotic raw materials such as obsidian and mica. Cultures in different regions began to diversify, probably because of the decline in interregional trade and travel.

Late Woodland people lived in villages that frequently were larger than Hopewell or Adena hamlets. They continued to grow crops such as sunflowers and squash and, by around A.D. 800, they began to include corn, or maize, in their gardens. Many communities were surrounded by a defensive wall or ditch suggesting that warfare had become a threat to these early American Indian groups.

One of the most important innovations introduced during the Late Woodland Period was the bow and arrow. This allowed for increased efficiency in hunting, but it also was a more effective weapon of war.

Some Late Woodland societies looked back with reverence on the old Hopewell ways and they buried their dead in the Hopewell earthworks. Archaeologists have referred to these groups as the "Intrusive Mound culture," but that name makes it seem like these burials were "intrusions" rather than attempts to continue traditional practices.

Late Woodland cultures gradually gave way to the subsequent Late Prehistoric cultures as maize became more important and as villages grew even larger. 

* "Late Prehistoric" is an archaeological heuristic that has been traditionally used to group artifacts of American Indian cultures on the North American continent after the Late Woodland period. Referring to the groups behind these artifacts as "pre-historic," however, is misleading -- these groups, of course, had a rich culture and history. Today, we would call these societies and cultures "pre-contact"; the archaeological convenience term has been left here because it remains in currency in some archaeological and historical texts.

See Also


  1. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005. 
  2. Schott, Michael J., Richard W. Jeffries, G. Oetelaar, Nancy O'Malley, M. L. Powell and DeeAnne Wymer "The Childers Site and Early Late Woodland Cultures of the Upper Ohio Valley." West Virginia Archeologist 45:1-30, 1993.
  3. Emerson, T.E., McElrath, D.L. , and Fortier, A. C. , eds. Late Woodland Societies: Tradition and Transformation Across the Midcontinent. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.