Late Archaic Culture

From Ohio History Central

Late Archaic Culture is a term archaeologists apply to the ancient American Indian people and cultures living in present-day Ohio and its surrounding areas between 5,000-3,000 years before present (BP) or 3,000-1,000 BCE. Late Archaic is also a term of archaeological convenience used to refer to a chronological time period that is characterized by cultural and technological developments made by Ohio’s ancient peoples.

The Middle Archaic Period (8,000-5,000 BP), the period preceding the Late Archaic Period, was characterized by hunter-gatherer communities that continued to increase in size, but remained primarily nomadic, moving to different regions to follow food sources. During the Late Archaic Period, North America’s climate changed, and Ohio began to receive more rain and generally cooler temperatures. These changes resulted in increased populations, leading to more permanent and larger settlements. Growing populations and increased food supplies required native peoples to develop new tools and facilities for preparing and storing food, such as ground-stone tools, storage pits, and earth ovens. In addition, Late Archaic cultures are the first documented peoples to produce pottery in Ohio—large, thick-walled ceramic vessels used to store water and oil made from nuts and seeds. This new use of pottery indicates that Late Archaic groups began to settle permanently, as a nomadic group would not likely want to transport large ceramic containers as they traveled.

Late Archaic cultures continued to hunt game and gather seeds, nuts, and berries, just as Middle Archaic groups, but in this period ancient American Indian groups began to grow crops, mainly squash, sunflowers, and marsh elder. Crops were grown in gardens, but not as intensively as with cultures of the Early Woodland period (2,800-2,000 BP). In conjunction with pottery production, the incorporation of growing crops suggests that these people started to establish seasonally permanent villages. Many Late Archaic funerary objects were made from resources not native to Ohio, suggesting an increased importance in materials from different places. Examples include flint from Indiana, copper from the Lake Superior region, and shells from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast.

Some archaeologists speculate that Late Archaic groups held shamanistic beliefs, as suggested by funerary objects which appear to have been sacred or important in some way, possibly a shared belief system with American Indian groups in the Great Lakes region of the United States. In northwestern Ohio, the Glacial Kame Culture buried certain people in large, natural mounds of earth deposited by glaciers known as “glacial kames.” Although we do not know the identities or societal roles of these individuals, archaeologists suspect they could have been leaders or important figures in their communities. Objects removed from Late Archaic burials vary in quality and quantity among burials.

Although the archaeological methods employed in the excavation of these Glacial Kame cemeteries often resulted in the loss of important information, and current protections for burial sites would likely prohibit the excavation of mounds today, these excavations provided important insights into the cultural practices of Late Archaic culture. For example, the excavation of burial places helps archaeologists understand the roles of men and women in communities. Late Archaic peoples often buried men with spear points and other hunting tools, suggesting men primarily hunted and fished. On the other hand, women were often buried with bone awls, needles, and scrapers, suggesting women more often managed the domestic sphere, which included gathering, preparing and cooking food, child rearing, and keeping up the homes and gardens.

Today, archaeologists generally would consult Ohio tribes before conducting an archaeological investigation of an ancient burial site. Since the enactment of the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, museums and cultural institutions are required by law to consult with Federally-recognized American Indian nations across the United States regarding human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and other culturally significant objects to the native nations.

See Also


  1. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.