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Ohio Prehistory - Late Woodland AD 450 - 1000

Late Woodland AD 450 - 1000
awl flint stone The Late Woodland is a poorly known time period, but stands in marked contrast to the Middle Woodland. There was a decline or abandonment of building new mounds and monuments, reduction in art production, less use of exotic materials, and a surprisingly complete absence of the traits and behaviors that defined the preceding Hopewell. This period includes three important developmental changes: the introduction of the first villages, an increasing emphasis on corn as a dietary staple, and the introduction of the bow and arrow.

A village was comprised of several houses surrounding a plaza and some villages were surrounded by a stockade or deep ditches. This may indicate a defensive posture, though there is little other evidence suggesting warfare. Villages are indicative of increasing sedentism, which may have been tied to a growing reliance on agriculture. In contrast to the garden-scale horticulture of the Early and Middle Woodland, Late Woodland people focused more intensively on food production in the form of large-scale agriculture based on plants of the Eastern Agricultural Complex and corn. This may be a response to an increased population with an ever greater need to extract more calories from smaller parcels of territory. Squash, gourds, and tobacco were also grown. Nuts, including hickory, black walnuts, and acorns, remained important as a source of protein.

As always in prehistoric Ohio, hunting remained an important source of protein from meat, bone for tools, and hides for clothing. In much of southern Ohio, almost every rockshelter or cave has evidence of a Late Woodland presence. These shelters were used as temporary hunting camps. Ash Cave, in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio, is an excellent example of a rockshelter and named for the dense ashes found there from thousands of years of continual prehistoric use. Rockshelters are a great asset to archaeologists as the environment of the shelter preserves material culture better than other environments.

The tool-kit changed as well. Late Woodland people utilized local chert instead of traveling long distances to obtain finer quality flint. Spear points were simple notched and stemmed points. Around A.D. 750, the bow and arrow was introduced. The bow and arrow was an important change to the toolkit, allowing projectiles to be fired from a prone position at greater rate of fire. In addition to stealth and speed, the lighter weight allowed a hunter to carry more arrows than the same hunter could carry spears. Some studies indicate that average deer size became smaller, suggesting the deer population was declining due to overhunting.

The use of art and ritual is less visible within the Late Woodland period. The villagers were using local and convenient materials instead of exotic materials. The emphasis changed from exotic and intricate to quick and “dirty.” Archaeologists suggest this change indicates a shift in social organization, which is also seen within the village structure.

Individuals were buried in cemeteries for the village. This is a major change as many were buried in mounds and near ceremonial centers during the Middle Woodland period. People were buried in small, stone mounds close to the village, but there does not seem to be a “typical” burial. Late Woodland people used extended burials, bundle burials, and cremations. Few burial goods have been found. Archaeologists have uncovered a few Late Woodland individuals buried in Hopewell earthworks, or “intrusive mound” burials, which date after 1300 B.P. These burials are accompanied with red ocher, antler harpoons, platform pipes, and granite picks. This may be seen as a method for local leaders to create a real or contrived connection to the older mounds and earthworks to legitimize the authority of Late Woodland leaders.