Archaic Period - Ancient American Hunter-Gatherers

Hunter-Gatherers of the American Plains

Poverty Point, 1938 Aerial Photo
Poverty Point, 1938 Aerial Photo. USACE

The Archaic period is the name given to generalized hunter-gatherer societies in the American continents from approximately 8,000 to 2000 years BC.

Archaic lifestyles includes a dependence on elk, deer, and bison depending on where the site is, and a wide range of plant materials. In coastal areas, shellfish and marine mammals were important food sources, and fish weirs were an important technological advance.

Archaic Advances

Important advances of the later Archaic period include earthworks at sites such as Poverty Point and Watson Brake (both in Louisiana), and the first pottery in the Americas, a fiber-tempered ware named after Stallings Island South Carolina were an important invention. During the Altithermal, Archaic peoples dug wells to stay alive in the high plains of west Texas and eastern New Mexico.

The Archaic period people are also responsible for the domestication of such important New World plants as bottle gourd, maize and cassava, the use of which plants would flourish in later periods.

Regional Archaic

The term Archaic is quite broad, and covers an enormous area of North and South America. As a result, several regional archaic groups have been recognized.

Regional Archaic Traditions: Plains Archaic, Oshara Tradition, Maritime Archaic, Shield Archaic, Ortoiroid, Piedmont Tradition, Pinto Culture, San Dieguito, Orange Culture, Mount Albion

See Guide to the Mesolithic for information about the roughly parallel period in the Old World.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaic Period - Ancient American Hunter-Gatherers." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Archaic Period - Ancient American Hunter-Gatherers. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Archaic Period - Ancient American Hunter-Gatherers." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).