Archaeology Lab by kellena92

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									                 Archaeology Lab
                               Teacher Guide
Grade Level: 6 — 8                                                     P.A.S.S.
Program overview
During this program, students will experience the
                                                                       GRADE 6
process of archaeology from excavation through             Social Studies – 1.1, 3.1, 3.2
identification, analysis and report writing. Students
will excavate a simulated site in a 3’ x 3’ square using               GRADE 7
appropriate tools. They will carefully recover the         Social Studies – 1.1, 5.1, 5.2
artifacts, then identify them as to material and use.
The identification (hoe, spear point) will lead them to
an identification of the culture’s subsistence style and               GRADE 8
place in the sequence of Oklahoma’s cultures.              Social Studies – 1.1

Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes
After participating in this program, students will be able to:
•  Discuss the general characteristics of several prehistoric cultures, from 10,000
   years ago to the present.
• Relate a culture’s artifacts (material remains) to other aspects of culture such as
   how people make a living.
• Explain how archaeological research is done.
• Give some general examples of ways that cultures relate to or interact with their
   natural environment.

The earliest cultures for which we have evidence in Oklahoma were the Big Game
hunters. These people hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other animals that were
alive in Oklahoma until between 20,000 and about 8,000 years ago. As the climate
changed the large animals died out and the people needed to adapt their substance
activities to smaller prey, including deer, rabbits and modern bison. People in
Oklahoma remained hunters until today, but around 500 A.D. some groups began to
also farm crops such as corns, beans, and squash. Once people begin farming
there are many cultural adjustments, such as permanent houses and larger
groupings of people into villages. This mixed hunting-farming life style lasted, with
variations, into the historic time period.
                                                 Teacher Guide, Archaeology Laboratory (Grades 6-8)
                                                                                            Page 2

At the Museum
Hall of the People of Oklahoma                          VOCABULARY
From 900 – 1400 A.D. there were
                                          Artifact-anything made or used by
many elaborate ceremonial centers
along the Mississippi River and its       humans. Examples include house
tributaries, including the Arkansas       foundations to arrow points.
and Red Rivers. Spiro Mound, in
eastern Oklahoma, was a part of the       Chert-a type of rock used to make
Mississippian Cultural Universe.          stone tools. It breaks with a sharp
Visit this exhibit in the central part of edge.
the People’s gallery and answer the
following questions.                      Excavate-to dig scientifically.
    1. The artifacts found at Spiro
                                          Archaeologists map a site, lay out a grid
        included many things that
        were given as gifts to            of squares, and excavate inch by inch
        important political and           inside the squares.
        religious leaders (elites).
        What were some of the elite       Forage-to go out and gather food.
        artifacts found at Spiro
        Mounds?                           Site-a place where there is evidence of
        • ANSWER: Shell jewelry,          human activity. A site range from an
            shell cups, copper            entire village to a firepit used once by
            hairpins, stone pipes
    2. Trade was very important
        throughout the Mississippian
        Cultural Universe. Canoes         Trowel-small hand tool for excavation
        were used for trading
        expeditions. What items could
        a canoe be used to acquire?
        • ANSWER: large shells, copper, pearls, stone
    3. What materials were used to build the houses from the Arkansas Basin and
        The Red River Basin? (Study the houses, the answer is not on a label).
        • ANSWER: tree trunks (wooden posts), grass (thatch roof), plant fibers
            (rope), mud

Correlating the Archaeology Laboratory and Museum Exhibits
During the archaeology lab, each culture is designated by the way the people
secured their food. This approach is easy for the students to remember and makes
the sequence sensible because it proceeds from the big-game hunting cultures, with
relatively few artifacts, to the hunting and farming cultures with more complex artifact
assemblages. However, when your students visit the exhibits at the museum they
will not see the names used in the laboratory. The exhibit labels use specific site
names, time periods, or the archaeological terms used by professionals. You can
use the chart below to correlate the exhibits (and your outside reading), to the
names used in the archaeology lab.
                                                Teacher Guide, Archaeology Laboratory (Grades 6-8)
                                                                                           Page 3

Term used in                 Term used in Museum            General term
Archaeology Laboratory       exhibit labels
Big-game Hunters,            Burnhan, Clovis                Paleo-Indian
Folsom, Dalton
Foragers                     Early Holocene Hunters-        Archaic
                             Gatherers, Late Holocene
                             Hunters-Gatherers, Calf
Early Farmers                Fourche Maline                 Woodland
Plains Village Farmers       Washita River, Antelope
Caddoan                      Spiro, Arkansas River          Mississippian Southern
                             Basin, Mississippian           Cult
                             Cultural Universe
Historic Wichitas            Historic Wichitas              Wichita

Supplementary/Enrichment Activities

Language Arts and History
1. Print out the article The Archaeologist at Work for your students (found at the
   end of the Teacher Guide). Have students do additional research on
   archaeology as a profession, including education needed, special skills needed,
   job opportunities, and expected salary.
2. Print out the article Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People for your students (found at the
   end of the Teacher Guide). Have them use the information to create a timeline.
   • Extension: On the bottom of the time line, add information on the
       contemporary cultures of the old world that your students have read about.

1. Illustrate the time line that you created after reading Oklahoma’s Prehistoric

1. Have your students do research on scientific methods of dating, such as
   dendrochronology or C14 dating.
                                                Teacher Guide, Archaeology Laboratory (Grades 6-8)
                                                                                           Page 4

Additional Resources
For Teachers
From Mounds to Mammoths: a Field Guide to
Oklahoma Prehistory, by Claudette Gilbert and Robert L. Brooks, University of
Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Anthro Notes
A Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Publication for Educators
This free online journal provides thoughtful, but not technical articles on archaeology
and Anthropology specifically written for educators.

For Students
Archaeology: The Comic, by Johannes H. N. Loubser
A visual textbook (comic) with good basic information.

In the Beginning: An Introduction to Archaeology, by Brian M. Fagan and
Christopher DeCorse. Prentis-Hall, 2004
                         The Archaeologist at Work
                                                 Sometimes things made of wood or
The Archaeologist’s Work                         plant fiber are found in protected places
                                                 such as caves, but ordinarily these
    For thousands of years before                materials decay rapidly and would have
Europeans came to America, people                vanished long ago.
were living in the place we now call
Oklahoma. These people were Native                    The archaeologist calls the places
Americans. We do not know what these             where prehistoric people lived or worked
people called themselves, but                    sites. A site might be the remains of a
archaeologists call them “prehistoric            temporary camp or a permanent village
people” because they lived here before           where people lived. Some sites are
written records about Oklahoma were              places where special activities took
made.                                            place—places where animals were
                                                 killed and cut up, or places where chert
    What we know about these                     (flint) was quarried and worked.
prehistoric Native Americans comes
from the work of Oklahoma                            The archaeologist is interested
archaeologists. Archaeologists are               mainly in learning about the way of life—
trained to study the things prehistoric          the culture—of prehistoric peoples. He
people left behind so that these items           wants to know how they adapted to their
can tell us about the way people lived in        environment, and how they solved the
the past.                                        problems of getting food, and making
                                                 shelters. He wants to know as much as
    In many ways the work of an                  possible about all the different ways
archaeologist is like that of a detective.       people have been able to survive on this
Both search for clues to tell them               planet. Prehistoric people, though they
something that happened in the past.             lived long, long ago, can teach us
The detective wants to know who                  something useful about our planet and
committed a crime, and how it was done           how to live.
and why. The detective’s clues are
footprints, fingerprints, bits of hair, cloth,        Each site has a story for the
or other items left by the criminal. The         archaeologist if she can interpret the
archaeologist wants to know who lived            clues she finds. Part of the story
in our state in the distant past. She            concerns the culture of the prehistoric
wants to know how these people made              people that used the site. Another part
a living, where they came from, and              of the story concerns the manner in
what happened to them. The                       which this culture changed or developed
archaeologist’s clues are the tools and          through the years. Oklahoma’s
implements left by prehistoric people            prehistoric people developed many
near their homes and workshops, and              fascinating and successful ways of
the traces of their activities on the land.      making a living in this land of wooded
                                                 hills and grassy prairies.
    The prehistoric tools that the
archaeologist finds are usually made out            A site is usually dug, or excavated
of some hard, durable material such as           when an archaeologist believes that it
stone, fire-hardened clay, shell, or bone.       can contribute important information
                                                        The Archaeologist at Work, 2

about prehistoric life-ways. Sometimes      accurate way of dating anything that has
sites are excavated because they are        carbon in it. Even if there are no clues
about to be destroyed by a new highway      to the absolute age of the site, the
or other construction. The site is dug      archaeologist can assume that the
very carefully as the archaeologist looks   objects she finds deep in the earth are
for clues about the people who lived        older than the objects she finds close to
there long ago. These clues are things      the surface.
like arrowheads, stone knives, chopping
tools, and bits of bone and charcoal that       The maps and records kept by the
were discarded as trash. These objects      archaeologist during excavation of the
are called artifacts. An artifact is        site will permit him to make models of
anything made or modified by people.        the site back in the laboratory. He
                                            knows that by excavating the site he will
    As the artifacts are uncovered, the     destroy it. All the clues to the prehistoric
archaeologist takes pictures and records    people who lived there will be gone. No
where each item was found. After being      one else will ever know about them and
recorded, the artifacts are removed.        their way of life if the archaeologist does
Detailed maps are made that show both       not do the work properly.
the site’s surface and cross-sections. A
cross-section shows excavation layers           Sometimes people who are not
from top to bottom. All the objects         archaeologists want to dig in a site in
removed from the site are recorded with     order to collect arrow points and other
reference to these maps.                    artifacts. Such digging has been illegal
                                            since 1936 when the state legislature
    Archaeologists may also find other      passed laws protecting Oklahoma’s
types of clues about prehistoric life.      antiquities. Before these laws were
Concentrations of bone and shell            past, some of our most valuable
indicate what kinds of animals were         archaeological sites were destroyed or
being eaten while dark stains in the dirt   seriously damaged when untrained
may show where wooden house posts           people dug into the sites. Some of the
once stood. Houses, fireplaces, and         most interesting parts of Oklahoma’s
storage pits tell the archaeologist         prehistoric story have been lost forever.
something about domestic life.
Cemeteries contain special evidence             Once the excavation of a site has
because skeletons can give the              been completed, the archaeologist will
archaeologist clues about the health and    need to do a great deal of work in the
stature of the people. Sometimes the        laboratory before she can piece together
ways in which people were placed in         the story the site had to tell. Most
their graves gives the archaeologist        archaeologist plan on spending four or
ideas about religious beliefs.              five days in the laboratory for every day
                                            they spend excavating a site. Artifacts
    The archaeologist always looks for      are carefully cleaned, repaired, and
some clue that will tell her how old the    labeled. Field notes and photographs
site is—that is, how long ago it was        are studied to determine which artifacts
used. Charcoal is very good because         belong together. Finally, the
scientists have developed a very            archaeologist writes about the artifacts
                                                        The Archaeologist at Work, 3

that were found and tells the story of the   archaeologist learn where the chert that
prehistoric inhabitants of the site.         was used for tools came from. A
                                             physicist runs the radiocarbon dating
   Archaeologists rely on many experts       test to determine how long ago a site
from other fields. A zoologist helps to      was used. A botanist studies the plant
identify bones, shells, and other animal     pollens found in soil samples taken from
remains.                                     the site. This gives the archaeologist
   This helps the archaeologist know         clues about what the climate was like
which animals the prehistoric people         long ago, because different types of
ate. A geologist identifies the stone        plants grow in different climates.
materials, and this helps the
Ways of Adapting                            hunters and gatherers because there
                                            were no domesticated plants or animals.
   All animals have physical                Even after some Native American
adaptations, which enable them to           groups learned to cultivate corn, many
survive in a certain natural environment.   other groups continued to live by
Only humans adapt to their                  hunting and gathering wild foods. In
environments through their culture.         western Oklahoma, where periods of
Culture is the knowledge, language,         adequate rainfall have alternated with
social organization, traditions, and        periods of little rainfall, hunting and
technical skills that are taught to the     gathering continued to be a successful
next generation by members of the           way to make a living even into historic
social group.                               times.
    For twenty-first century Oklahomans,        None of the prehistoric people in the
our culture includes the knowledge of       New World kept herds of domestic
how to irrigate the prairies and plains,    animals such as cattle, sheep, or
how to build and operate tractors and       horses. Europeans brought all of these
other machinery, how to raise grain and     animals to America after 1492.
cattle, and how to obtain coal and          Strangely enough, horses originated in
petroleum and use them for energy to        the New World and migrated to the Old
run these machines.                         World over land bridges many
                                            thousands of years ago. This ancient
     Prehistoric people adapted to their    type of horse died out at the end of the
environment differently. They did not       last ice age, along with some other
use machinery but they did know how to      animal species such as elephants,
live successfully using the available raw   camels, and giant ground sloths.
materials. These materials were stone,      However, in the Old World horses were
wood, bone, antler, plant fibers, and       eventually domesticated. Finally, the
animal hides. Prehistoric people            Spaniards brought them back to the
developed two main ways of making a         New World.
living. One way was to hunt wild
animals and gather wild plant foods.        The Big-Game Hunters
The other way was to grow crops, such
as corn, beans, and squash. Usually,            We have good evidence that people
the hunting and gathering groups were       lived in Oklahoma between 10,000 and
nomads. They lived in small groups          25,000 years ago during the last ice
and moved their camps often,                age. These people were nomadic
depending upon where the best hunting       hunters of very large, extinct animals.
or plant collecting was. The farming        Archaeologists call these people “Big-
groups usually lived in fairly permanent    Game Hunters” because their stone
villages. They also hunted and              tools are often found with the bones of
collected wild plant foods to round out     mammoths and giant bison. Oklahoma
their diet.                                 was never covered with a sheet of ice,
                                            but the climate was more temperate
    The hunting and gathering way of life   than it is now. The summers were
is older than the farming way. For          cooler while the winters did not have
thousands of years, all people were         long periods of freezing. There was
                                                     Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 2

more rain so that lush grasses covered        ritual in the form of a bison skull with a
the high plains and trees were more           lightning design painted on the
abundant than they are now. Animals           forehead.
living in Oklahoma during this period
included the mammoth, mastodon,                   Though these earliest Oklahomans
short-faced bear, camel, horse, giant         were hunters, they also collected edible
ground sloth, a very large type of bison,     wild plants. They probably lived in small
and a small type of antelope.                 bands of related families. They may
                                              have traveled long distances in quest of
    The Big-Game Hunters are known            game or to obtain desirable types of
from several sites, mostly in the western     stone for their tools. There is evidence
half of the state. These sites were           that they built small, temporary houses
small, temporary camps located along          with pole frames. Probably these
rivers and small streams, or near             frames were covered with hides or
springs. There are two sites in               brush. They knew how to make and use
southwestern Oklahoma where                   fire.
mammoths were killed and butchered.
The Cooperton site in Kiowa County has            Small groups of hunters may have
been dated (by radiocarbon method) at         brought down the large mammoths and
about 20,000 years ago. This                  bison by cooperative hunting. They may
questionable date is one of the earliest      have waited in ambush until a hunt
dates we have for people in North             leader gave the signal for the attack.
America. The Domebo mammoth kill              Prehistoric hunters probably had
site is in Caddo County and is dated at       detailed knowledge of the land and
about 11,100 years ago.                       habits of the mammoth and giant bison
                                              which they could use to ambush their
    Two of Oklahoma’s Big-Game                prey at water holes and other gathering
Hunter sites can be seen in the exhibits      places. The hunters used the spear
at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of           and the atlatl (spearthrower). An atlatl
Natural History. One of these sites is        is basically a lever, which can be used
very special because it possibly has one      to propel a spear with increased velocity
of the oldest dates ever obtained for         and distance.
people in North America. The Burnham
site, in Woods County, contained tiny             Most of the Big-Game Hunter tools
flakes and bones from a huge form of          were chipped from stone, and included
bison. Soil deposits at this intriguing       spearpoints, knives, drills, choppers,
site date to around 30,000 years ago.         and other sharp cutting and scraping
Unfortunately, the flakes have not been       implements. These people also carved
conclusively associated with the dated        spearshafts, knife handles, spearpoints,
material.                                     atlatls, awls, and beads from bone and
                                              wood. The animals they killed provided
    The Cooper site in Harper County is       not only meat, but also hides for making
a well-documented bison kill site that        clothing, containers, and covers for their
dates to about 10,200 years ago. This         shelters. The animal sinew could be
site has numerous bones from a                made into thread and string. Animal
different type of large bison, a variety of   bones could be used for tools and
stone tools, and evidence of hunting          ornaments.
                                                   Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 3

    These people were extremely skilled     animals, they began to intensively use
at making tools from chert and other        the locally available plants and animals.
stones. Not only were their spearpoints     Within their home territory they moved
and knives very efficient for killing and   about harvesting nuts, berries, roots,
cutting, but they were also beautiful       and seeds as they ripened. Hard plant
objects. The Big-Game Hunters               foods were crushed in small basins
seemed to be as concerned with              made from sandstone. Axes of chipped
appearance of their chipped stone tools     stone and ground stone were used to
as with their usefulness.                   dig plant foods as well as to cut down
                                            trees for shelters and tools. Plant fibers
    The hunting of mammoths and very        and roots were collected and used for
large bison ended with the melting of the   making baskets, nets, and string.
glaciers and the end of the ice age. By     Because they hunted many kinds of
7,000 years ago the last glacier was        modern animals, and also collected a

essentially gone. A trend toward a          wide variety of wild plant foods,
warmer climate began and lasted until       archaeologists call these people
about 2,500 years ago. Oklahoma             “Foragers”.
developed warmer and drier summers,
although the winters remained                   The nomadic Foragers hunted deer,
moderate. Grasslands increased and          raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, turkey, and
forests decreased. Animals such as the      ducks and collected freshwater mussels.
mammoth, giant bison, mastodon,             Groups living in western Oklahoma also
horse, and camel became extinct.            hunted the modern bison. The Forages
                                            fished using lines with bone hooks or
                                            nets with stone weights. Foragers made
The Foragers                                many types of chipped stone tools:
                                            spearpoints, knives, scrapers, drills and
   As the environment changed, the          chopping tools. These tools are not as
prehistoric Native Americans adjusted       beautiful or as finely worked as those of
their way of life by focusing on hunting    the Big-Game Hunters, but they were
modern species of animals. Instead of       efficient. The Foragers made some
ranging so far and hunting mainly large     tools of ground stone, including weights
                                                  Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 4

for atlatls (spearthrowers). Bone and      years ago. Other skeletons from
antler were used to make spearpoints,      eastern Oklahoma date between 5,000
needles, awls, punches, and atlatl         to 2,000 years ago. These people were
hooks. The Foragers undoubtedly used       of average height and were generally in
skin bags and woven baskets to hold        good health. Some individuals had
and carry their household goods and        decayed teeth and arthritis. Some
they traveled from camp to camp.           skeletons had bones which had been
Perishable items, like baskets, are not    broken, but which had healed while the
usually found by archaeologists.           individuals were alive. On the average,
                                           men were about thirty-five years old
        As the Foraging groups moved       when they died; women usually died a
about their territory collecting and       little younger.
hunting, they reused many campsites.
At these places the people built rock-     The Early Farmers
lined fireplaces, and sometimes dug
roasting pits. Foragers may have built          About 2,000 years ago a new way of
shelters with pole frames at these         life began in central and eastern Okla-
                                           homa based on planting and tending

camping places. Some Foraging groups       crops. This change from gathering food
in northeastern Oklahoma used caves        to producing food led to important
or bluff overhangs for their dwelling      changes in almost every aspect of life.
places. Over the years the trash
discarded at these sites accumulated as        For one thing, farming people need
thick layers of soil containing broken     to stay in one area for most of the year
bone, charcoal, ash, and broken tools.     to plant, cultivate, and harvest their
                                           crops. Thus, the Native American
    Some human burials and a few dog       groups that took up farming began to
burials have been found at Forager         live in fairly permanent villages, rather
sites. The human skeletons give us         than in temporary hunting camps.
information on the health and stature of   These people began to build more
these people. The earliest Oklahoma        substantial houses. Because Early
skeleton was found in Comanche             Farmers were not moving around as
County and dates from about 7,000          much, they could make and keep more
                                                  Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 5

personal possessions, including such            Whatever the answer in this case,
things as clay pots and heavy grinding     we know that by AD 500 there were
stones.                                    small farming villages along the
                                           Arkansas, Verdigris, and Grande Rivers
   Farming began about 4,000 to 7,000      and their tributaries. By AD 700 similar
years ago in the New World. Important      villages were as far south as the
American food plants such as corn,         Arbuckle Mountains. These Early
beans, squash, pumpkin, and chile,         Farmers selected places of mixed forest
were domesticated in Mexico, Central       and prairie to live. Their tiny villages
America, and South America. Plants         were located in the fertile valleys where
such as sunflower, goosefoot, and pig-     the soil was easiest to till. These
weed were domesticated in eastern          villages were very small by our
North America and may have been            standards—perhaps just two or three
grown in Oklahoma by prehistoric           houses and a number of shallow pits
people. By AD 200, a new way of life       dug for food storage. In the nearby
based on growing corn, beans, and          prairies and woods, the people hunted
squash had spread up the Mississippi       deer, turkey, and small game with
River and its tributaries—the Missouri,    spears and also with bows and arrows.
the Ohio, and the Arkansas Rivers.         This latter weapon appeared in
    Archaeologists can not yet tell us     Oklahoma about the same time as farm-
who Oklahoma’s first prehistoric farmers   ing. The Early Farmers continued to
were, but there are four regions in our    gather nuts, berries, and other wild plant
state where farming first developed.       foods. Corn, and probably beans,
These include: (1) the Grand River area
in northeastern Oklahoma; (2) the
Ouachita Mountains in southeastern
Oklahoma; (3) the Cimarron River area
in the Oklahoma panhandle; and (4)
along the Canadian and Washita Rivers
in central and western Oklahoma.
   In northeastern Oklahoma the
people made pottery and stone tools
that looked much like those made by the
early farming people of western
Missouri. Either some farming people
moved into Oklahoma, or some of the        squash, and sunflowers were planted in
local Foragers learned about farming       their gardens.
from their neighbors in western               The Early Farmers used hoes made
Missouri. It is often difficult for an     from stone or mussel shell. The hoes
archaeologist to determine if new life-    were used to break up the earth in the
ways are the result of the movement of     easily tilled river and creek bottoms to
people or just the ideas? Sometimes        make small garden plots. The seeds
the archaeologist must simply say, “I      were planted in hills, rather than rows.
don’t know.”                               The crops were planted together so that
                                           the bean vines could grow up the corn
                                                    Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 6

stalks. Prehistoric gardens were not like    egg-shaped. These pots were probably
the commercial farms of today with their     propped up with rocks in the fire. The
large open fields and row upon row of a      outside surface of the pot was
single crop. The thick, hard sods of the     decorated by pressing it with cord-
grasslands could not be farmed with the      wrapped paddles while the clay was still
stone and shell hoes of Early Farmers.       soft—before the pot was fired. This
                                             decoration was more popular in the
    Most of the corn was allowed to be-      central and western parts of Oklahoma.
come fully mature and to dry on the cob      Sometimes the soft clay was incised to
before it was harvested. The dried corn      create patterns.
would keep indefinitely and so provided
food throughout the winter. The hard            The archaeologist learns a great
kernels of dried corn were boiled in         deal about prehistoric peoples by
soups or made into meal by being             studying their pottery. The broken
ground in sandstone basins with a            pieces, or potsherds, are as durable as
rough-surfaced grinding stone. As you        stone, and each group of people has its
might guess, many particles of               own preference as to vessel shape and
sandstone came loose from the grinding       manner of decoration. By studying
basin and were mixed with the                pottery from different sites, the
cornmeal. The result of this was wear        archaeologist can often tell which sites
on the teeth and often abscesses.            are the oldest.
Twenty-first century Oklahomans are
not alone in having tooth troubles           The Plains Village Farmers
related to diet.                                 Beginning about AD 800 the farming
                                             groups in Oklahoma began to increase
    The Early Farmers made pottery           in population. Perhaps this growth
vessels in which they could cook and         resulted from improved ways of farming,
store food. Pottery is made from clay, to    the introduction of better varieties of
which temper of some coarse material is      corn, or the development of a moister
added. The damp clay is shaped into a        climate. Certainly, the ability to produce
pot, allowed to dry, and then is placed in   dependable crops played a part in this
a hot fire or bed of coals. The intense      population growth.
heat causes chemical changes in the
clay, so that the resulting pot is hard,
and very heat-resistant. Pottery is also
very brittle—it breaks easily. Thus pot-
tery vessels would have been very cum-
bersome to a group of nomadic hunting
people who were always moving camp.
Nomadic hunters probably had contain-
ers made of animal skins, or basketry.
But to settled people, pottery vessels
were very useful and new pots could
easily be made to replace broken ones.
  The Early Farmers of Oklahoma
made pottery vessels that were oval or
                                                   Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 7

     Farming groups on the plains of        to the west, while shells were obtained
central and western Oklahoma probably       from the Pacific coast. Tools have been
were descended from the Early Farmers       found that were made from stone traded
that lived in these areas. Many of their    in from the Texas panhandle (Alibates)
village sites are known along the valleys   and the Ponca City area (Florence A or
of the Washita River, the North Fork of     Kay County chert). A few pieces of
the Red River, and the Beaver River in      eastern Oklahoma pottery and stone
the panhandle. Archaeologists call          earspools (ornament worn through an
these people “Plains Village Farmers.”      enlarged hole in the earlobe) have been
                                            found at Plains Village sites. There is
    The Plains Village Farmers usually      no evidence that Plains Village groups
built square or rectangular houses that     had a highly organized political system.
had walls made of a poles-and-cane          Villages were probably linked to each
framework. The poles and canes were         other through common interests and
plastered with a thick clay layer. A        kinship.
tunnel-like entryway extended several
feet from the house. There were
fireplaces of baked clay in the center of   The Caddoan Culture
the house. The roofs were steep and
covered with bundles of prairie grass           About the same time that Plains
laid like shingles on a framework of        Village people lived in central and
poles.                                      western Oklahoma, we find a different
                                            culture in eastern Oklahoma. Between
   In contrast, Plains Village people in    AD 1000 and AD 1450, large earthen
the Oklahoma panhandle built multi-         mounds were built at a few large sites
room houses with foundations of stone       within the Arkansas River Valley and the
and adobe. The smaller rooms probably       Red River Valley. These major centers
were used to store crops.                   indicate strong political and religious
                                            organization in these societies.
     Digging tools such as bison tibia
                                            Archaeologists use the language term
digging sticks, bison scapula hoes, and
                                            “Caddoan” to refer to these prehistoric
bison horn-core scoops are fairly
                                            people because they may be the
common at most Plains Village sites.
                                            ancestors of some historic Caddo and
These people made plain (or smooth)
                                            Wichita subgroups. The Caddoans’
surface pottery as well as cordmarked
                                            sophisticated burial practices and
pottery. These people dug large pits in
                                            artwork suggest that they were part of
and around their houses. The pits were
                                            the larger Mississippian culture found
used first for food storage and then for
                                            throughout the southeastern United
dumping trash. These people buried
                                            States. The complex Mississippian
their dead in cemeteries near the
                                            culture developed over a period of
villages. Sometimes domestic items
                                            several hundred years.
were placed in the graves.
                                               The Arkansas River Valley and Red
    There is evidence that Plains Village
                                            River Valley Caddoans farmed and
people traded with groups that lived
                                            hunted. Their crops included corn,
hundreds of miles away. Pieces of
                                            beans, squash, sunflower, and tobacco.
turquoise, obsidian, and painted-pottery
                                            These groups hunted animals with bows
were acquired from the Pueblo people
                                                    Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 8

and arrows and also gathered wild            practice also indicated the status or rank
plants. Farming tools were made from         of the person being buried.
bone, mussel shell, or stone. Houses
were built with a post-and-cane                  Large mound centers apparently
framework and the walls were plastered       served as mortuary, political, and
with thick clay. Usually structures had a    religious centers for the scattered
square or rectangular floor plan and four    farming communities. Only a few
center posts to support the roof. A few      religious or political leaders or
of the later buildings had only two center   caretakers actually lived at the major
posts and some structures were circular.     centers. The earthen mounds often
Food was stored and cooked in pottery        were grouped around a large open area
vessels of various sizes and shapes.         called a plaza. At different times of the
Some of these vessels were decorated         year, many people would gather in the
with elaborate designs. The two              plaza for religious festivals and other
Caddoan groups traded extensively with       special activities.
each other.
                                                 Some mounds were used as burial
     The Europeans that first visited what   places for high-ranked individuals (or
is now the southeastern United States        elites). Other flat-top mounds served
described some Native Americans as           as platforms for caretaker houses,
living around ceremonial centers with        mortuary buildings, or special religious
mounds. Based on the historic                buildings. Mortuaries were where the
documents and the archaeological             bodies were placed, or the cleaned
record, archaeologist think that in          bones or ashes of the dead were stored
Caddoan society individuals were             before burial. The bones of higher-
ranked in importance depending upon          ranked people were eventually reburied
how closely they were related to the         in the large mounds. Most of the
chief. Higher-ranking people may have        mounds were built in stages over a long
worn special costumes and ornaments          period of time. A mound might be
and may have had attendants to wait on       enlarged or changed as new building
them. Apparently, the highest-ranking        were placed on it, or as new burials
families provided military control over      were added.
the trade of exotic goods as well as local
products. Higher rank also meant                The most famous Caddoan site in
special treatment in death.                  Oklahoma is the Spiro Mounds site on
                                             the south bank of the Arkansas River
    Most of the Caddoan people lived in      near Poteau. Spiro covered about 80
tiny communities that were scattered         acres and had at least 12 mounds
across the countryside. These ordinary       arranged around a plaza. The site’s key
people were buried in cemeteries near        location allowed the Spiro elites to
their villages. Sometimes, a few             control trade between Plains Village
domestic items such as stone or shell        groups to the west and Mississippi River
beads, arrowpoints, or pottery vessels       Valley societies to the southeast.
were placed in their graves. The
inclusion of grave goods was a way to           The grave goods found with elite
show respect for the dead. This              burials at Spiro include: engraved conch
                                             shell cups and gorgets (a pendant);
                                                     Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 9

copper axes, masks, and hawk-dancer           prehistoric period and historic, when
plates; baskets filled with freshwater        written records became commonplace.
pearl beads; carved stone pipes in            Expeditions led by Coronado, De Soto,
animal and human form; carved stone           Onate and La Harpe give us some
earspools; stone axes and maces; cedar        information on this time period, but this
masks; feather cloaks; engraved and           information is incomplete and often
incised decorated pottery; and textiles       puzzling.
                                                  Both the protohistoric and historic
                                              periods were times of relatively rapid
                                              economic and political change. Factors
                                              of change included: the acquisition of
                                              the horse, increased access to
                                              European trade goods, declining
                                              population owing to European diseases,
                                              and the arrival of other groups such as
                                              the Apaches to the west and the
woven of vegetable fibers with
                                              Osages to the east. These rapid
geometric designs. Engravings on the
                                              changes make it difficult to correlate the
copper plates and on the shell cups and
                                              archaeological data with historically-
gorgets depict Spiro social life and
                                              known cultures.
religious symbolism. Figures are shown
with masks and feather headdresses,
with painted or tattooed bodies, in cloth     Caddoans
or animal skin “kilts”, and with hair, ear,       Some evidence suggests that
wrist, and ankle ornaments. Activities        Oklahoma’s climate was drier during the
such as dancing or paddling a canoe           protohistoric period and that the bison
are seen on the engraved shells. These        range expanded. Whatever the reason,
grave goods show that the people at           around AD 1450, the strong political
Spiro were not only skilled artisans but      organization of the Arkansas River
also that they were part of a widespread      Valley Caddoans collapsed. The people
trade network. For instance, conch            continued to live in the area for about
shells came from the Gulf of Mexico and       200 years but mound building and
the copper was from the Lake Superior         elaborate mortuary practices ceased.
region or from Georgia.                       There was more emphasis on growing
                                              corn and making trips to the western
The Historic Period                           plains to hunt bison. Trade items reflect
                                              more trade with groups to the west than
   The although written records about         with groups to the southeast. Farming
the area that is now Oklahoma began in        and bison hunting also were important
1541 with the record of Coronado’s            to the Red River Valley Caddoans after
expedition, there was a long period of        AD 1450.
time (AD 1540-1750) when Europeans
were living in and exploring Oklahoma,        Wichitas
but not much was written down. This              In central and western Oklahoma,
time period is often referred to as the       we see an increased emphasis on bison
proto-historic since it bridges the           hunting after AD 1450 and a marked
                                              decrease in farming compared to the
                                                    Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 10

earlier Plains Village period. These          Coronado’s expedition in AD 1541.
people probably descended from the            During the next two centuries, various
earlier Plains Village groups that lived in   subgroups were visited by Spanish and
the area. They may be the ancestors of        French explorers and traders. The
a Wichita subgroup.                           French traded extensively with Wichita
                                              subgroups. Deer Creek and Bryson-
     The term “Wichita” refers to several     Paddock are large, eighteenth century
subgroups of Caddoan-speaking people          Wichita sites in the Arkansas River
living on the Southern Plains in              Valley near Newkirk, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma, southern Kansas, and north-         Limited investigations at both sites
central Texas. The following information      yielded numerous bison bones, large
is a general, composite picture of the        hide-scrapers, pottery, bison digging
historic Wichitas.                            tools, metal axes and pots, French
    The Wichitas grew corn, beans,            gunflints, and glass beads.
squash, and pumpkin. Nuts, sand                   Historically, the Wichitas lived in
plums, goosefoot, and pigweed were            large, grass-covered, beehive-shaped
collected. During the fall and winter,        houses. Wooden arbors were
most of the villagers went on the annual      constructed for outside events. During
bison hunt. Deer, elk, antelope, rabbits,     the eighteenth century, some villages
and squirrels also were hunted.               had ditches or wooden stockades.
    The Wichitas used a variety of stone      European explorers noted that Wichita
tools such as arrowpoints, diamond-           men and women had extensive tattooing
beveled knives, large hide-scrapers,          on their faces and bodies.
grinding basins, and elbow-pipes made             Wichita villages were located at
from red pipestone from northeastern          different times along the Washita,
Kansas. Bone tools included bone              Canadian, North Canadian, Red, and
points, bison digging sticks and hoes,        Arkansas Rivers. In many cases, the
rasps, awls, pendants, and hide-fleshing      Wichita favored high terraces or ridges
tools. Eventually, pottery vessels were       rather than settling on the lower terraces
replaced by European metal pots; stone        adjacent to the river. This decision may
and bone tools were replaced by metal         have been a defensive strategy.
hoes, axes, and knives; and bows and
arrows were replaced by guns.                     Because of their pivotal position on
                                              the southern plains, Wichita subgroups
     In many ways, the social lives of the    frequently were in conflict with many of
Wichita represent a continuation of the       their neighbors including the Apaches,
Plains Village pattern. The society was       the Comanches, and the Osages. In the
focused around the household although         1740s, the Comanches formed an
there may have been some loosely              alliance with the Wichitas and in the
structured political organization among       1790s the Kiowas, Comanches, and
villages. Certain families may have           Wichitas were in alliance.
traditionally provided political and
religious leaders for the Wichitas.                Eventually, the severity of the
                                              conflicts and the epidemics of European
   Wichita subgroups were first               diseases forced the remaining members
contacted by the Spanish during               of the Wichita subgroups to relocate
                                                    Oklahoma’s Prehistoric People, 11

their villages along and south of the Red     secured. Some of these people likely
River. In 1759, the Wichitas managed          were Apaches.
to defeat the Spanish in a major battle at
San Bernadino, a fortified Wichita village        We know about this way of life not
on the north bank of the Red River. In        only from the work of archaeologists, but
the mid-1800s, the remaining Wichitas         also from descriptions written down by
were relocated to reservation lands in        early European explorers and from later
Caddo County, Oklahoma.                       historic records. Groups of people that
                                              were probably related to the Apache
                                              were described as plains bison hunters
Apaches and other Plains Bison Hunters        during the proto-historic period.
     Native American groups that lived in     However, most of the tribes that used
the drier areas of western Oklahoma           tipis and hunted the bison on horseback,
followed a nomadic hunting and                such as the Kiowas, Comanches,
gathering way of life. These people           Cheyennes, and Arapahos, came into
killed bison, deer, and antelope and          Oklahoma from the north and west
collected wild plant foods. These             during the historic period.
hunters used bows and arrows and lived           Archaeologists continue to study the
in tipis (conical tents with covers of        prehistoric and early historic peoples of
buffalo hide) which could be easily           Oklahoma. There are still many sites to
moved as the hunters followed the bison       investigate and new clues to uncover. If
herds. Animal skins were used for             these irreplaceable archaeological
clothing and containers. These people         resources can be protected, we may
probably used dogs to help move their         continue to find new information about
camps because horses were not                 how people lived in Oklahoma centuries
available until around AD 1700. Dogs          ago.
were trained to carry packs or drag
small travois upon which bundles were

Note: The information in this booklet was adapted by Dr. Sheila Savage from the book
From Mounds to Mammoths by Claudette Gilbert and Robert L. Brooks and from an
article by Don Wyckoff entitled “A Young Person’s Guide to Oklahoma’s Prehistoric
People” printed in the spring 1972 issue of Oklahoma Today.

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