Late Prehistoric Period
A.D. 900 to 1650
The Late Prehistoric* Period refers to the time immediately before the movement of Europeans into the Ohio country. The Native American cultures occupying Ohio during this period lived in large villages often surrounded by a stockade wall. Sometimes they built their villages on high ground overlooking a river. Leadership may have become centralized in one or two leaders, perhaps including a war chief.
Late Prehistoric people grew maize (or corn), beans, and squash in their fields. They continued to hunt, fish, and gather wild plant foods, but maize was, by far, their most important source of food.
Their ritual life was centered on the plazas at the center of their villages and often the dead were buried in graves surrounding the plaza. Effigy mounds represent a new development during this period. Serpent Mound and the Alligator Mound appear to have been shrines to important spirits that still were revered by the tribes of the historic period.
During the Late Prehistoric Period, several distinctive cultures arose in different parts of Ohio: the Fort Ancient culture in central and southern Ohio, Sandusky culture in northwestern Ohio, Whittlesey culture in northeastern Ohio, and the Monongahela culture in eastern Ohio.
The Late Prehistoric Period also is called the Mississippian Period. In the Mississippi Valley and in the Southeastern United States, large cites grew up during this time. The largest was Cahokia in Illinois.
Perhaps similar large cities would have become established in Ohio, but the Beaver Wars and then the movement of Europeans into the region forever changed the lives of Ohio's Native Americans.
*It should be noted that, though it is still a recognized term of archaeological convenience, "Late Prehistoric" is something of a misnomer. The term 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 problematic: it suggests that these groups lacked a rich culture and history, and can potentially reflect an imperialist viewpoint. Today, we would call these societies and cultures "pre-contact"; the archaeological convenience term has been left here, however, because it remains in currency in some archaeological and historical texts.
- Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.
- Lepper, Bradley T., Great Serpent. Timeline 15(5):30-45, 1998.
- Milner, George R. The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America. London, Thames & Hudson, 2005.