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Ohio Prehistory - Early Woodland 1000 BC - AD 50

Early Woodland 1000 BC - AD 50
Pottery and points The Early Woodland represents several major changes in lifeways from the preceding Archaic periods: increasing sedentism, the introduction of pottery, cultivating plants as a food source, implementing more complex mortuary practices, building mounds and earthen enclosures, and the introduction of exotic materials from distant locales. These transformations emerged slowly, but all continued to grow in importance in subsequent cultural periods. Archaeologists often use the term “Early Woodland” interchangeably with “Adena” as a name for the first woodland culture in the Ohio River Valley. Some archaeologists prefer to use “Adena” only to describe mortuary behavior.

The Adena people built conical mounds and small circular earthen enclosures, which were typically built in prominent locations, often at the edges of river valleys. These structures were highly-visible public monuments which may have served as a boundary of territories and a way to demonstrate wealth and power. These monuments also are interpreted as a place for communities to come together and mourn the dead, celebrate marriages, and hold festivities or conduct ceremonies. Small earthen enclosures appear unrelated to mortuary practices, but were likely ceremonial and social centers for small groups of people.

Burial rituals varied greatly. The deceased might be buried laying on their backs or cremated, buried with and without objects, and might be placed inside or outside a mound. Not all people were buried in mounds since those structures do not contain a representative cross-sample of genders or age groups. Those who were privileged enough to buried in mounds were individuals who held social status in life, perhaps as a shaman, a revered warrior, a respected artisan, community leader, or the family of a leader. Grave offerings included with a burial likewise reflect high social status within the community. Although some Adena mounds, such as the Miamisburg Mound, are very large, these constructions were built slowly in many individual burial events over a long period of time by few people.

The use and importance of exotic raw materials intensified with the Adena. Archaeologists note an influx of copper from the Great Lakes, marine shell from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, and mica from the southern Appalachian Mountains. This increased use of exotic materials might have been a way to establish economic trade relationships with distant communities that extended to other tangible exchanges of both goods and information. Long-distance trade may also be a way for an individual leader to assert social status or represent “tangible certificates” of good will and support from many groups.

The Early Woodland people were the first to make pottery. Pottery was made from local clay, mixed with tiny coarse pieces of stone to add strength, and formed to the desired shape. Pottery varied in size and shape, but most was thick-walled with straight sides, a cone-shaped base, wide mouth, and straight or flared rim. Some vessels were decorated with stamped or punctuate designs, but most often, it is plain. The pots were large vessels with thick walls, which made them heavy and easily broken. The emergence of pottery indicates that populations were increasingly sedentary since these vessels were difficult to transport.

The Adena people relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild resources, but they also began producing significant amounts food through the cultivation of plants. Starchy plants such as sumpweed, sunflower, goosefoot, little barley, squash/gourd, and maygrass were all being cultivated and part of what archaeologists have termed the Eastern Agricultural Complex (EAC). Archaeologists describe this food production as horticulture, which is more similar to gardening than farming. Hunting and gathering remained important which is reflected in tool kits, which might include side-notched, corner-notched, triangular, and teardrop-shaped points, blades, drills, scrapers, grooved axes, and celts.