Archaic Indians in Virginia

Archaic points, without flakes in center chipped away to create Clovis flutes
Archaic points, without flakes in center chipped away to create Clovis flutes
Source: National Park Service Southeast Archeological Center, Outline of Prehistory and History

The transition from the Paleo-Indian to the Archaic Period 10,000 years ago (or 8,000BP) is defined by a clear shift in the design of points.

According to the classic anthropology explanation, in the "good ol' days," bands of hunters strapped large Clovis points onto long spears and killed mastodons, mammoths, and other large megafauna that could provide a major meal. Then climate change and over-hunting by the Paleo-Indians exterminated the large mammals. Smaller points were more effective in hunting smaller game:1

The replacement of fluted point forms by nonfluted points is believed to reflect a change in the adaptive strategy, away from hunting Late Pleistocene megafauna toward a more generalized hunting of small, modern game, such as deer, and a collecting subsistence strategy within the southern pine forests as they replaced the boreal forests.

Virginia had no glaciers in the last Ice Age; the southernmost edge of the last ice sheet was in Pennsylvania and New York. However, cold and dry winds from the ice sheet shaped the vegetation and the hunting opportunities in Virginia. Until 14,000BP, the pollen record from sediment cores from Browns Pond, a sinkhole in Bath County, suggests that the Valley and Ridge physiographic province was covered by a closed boreal forest, with a high percentage of pine, spruce and fir trees. As glaciers retreated, more alder pollen appears in the cores, suggesting a wetter climate developed. As the climate warmed, deciduous forests extended up the mountains. warmer, drier climate between 10,000-8,000BP spurred the expansion of oaks, hickories, maples and beeches.2

Browns Pond, sinkhole in Bath County with pollen dating to 17,000 years ago
Browns Pond, sinkhole in Bath County with
pollen dating to 17,000 years ago
Source: U S Geological Survey The National Map
Browns Pond, currently surrounded by deciduous forest
Browns Pond, currently
surrounded by deciduous forest
Source: U S Geological Survey The National Map

In the Archaic period, deciduous trees produced fruits and nuts that were food for a wider variety of animals, and habitats changed. Smaller forest and grassland game was more common as the Ice Age ended. In response, foragers looking for plant and animal food spent less time concentrated in the river bottoms. The bands of hunters and gatherers scattered more across the landscape, settling in new areas and increasing the total population in the state.

Family units took fewer long journeys and roamed in more places. They got to know a particular valley that provided water, fruit and nuts, plus fish and game... and traveled less. In other words, they joined into a:3

residentially stable hunting and gathering band society that seasonally occupied base camps along major water courses and exploited lithic and food resources within individual stream drainages.

think an Archaic settlement looked like this?
think an Archaic settlement looked like this?
Source: National Park Service Southeast Archeological Center, Beneath These Waters

However, "residentially stable" does not mean construction of permanent houses. Archaic sites lack post molds, so humans must have used temporary structures for shelter. Foraging groups were constantly on the move, exploiting plants in a valley and harvesting game on a ridgeline before moving to another location to acquire food.

Archaic Indians used less-specialized rock for their tools, perhaps because the new areas occupied by hunting bands were further from known quarries such as Flint Run (Warren County). The shaping of points and blades in the toolkit - especially the way the base of points were notched - shifted as well, perhaps to reflect new techniques for hunting with smaller tools. Hunters developed the atl-atl, a better way to throw spears with a smaller stone/bone dart tip.

atl-atl, enhanced technology for throwing a spear
the "atl-atl" that enhanced Archaic technology for throwing a spear
Source: National Park Service

how to throw an atl-atl
how to throw an atl-atl
Source: National Park Service

Archaic Virginians knew where to hunt and when to harvest food from plants, because they knew their territory. In brackish and saltwater areas, people would have relied heavily upon oysters, turtles, crabs - and feasted on the occasional beached whale as well, on beaches now under the waves of the Atlantic Ocean since sea level has risen since the time of Archaic settlement.

Not surprisingly, it appears that these more-settled groups may have defended their territory and excluded competitors. Protein sources had value, and places that provided a reliable supply of seafood were worth defending. That behavior led to some social isolation, and different regions developed different styles of notching their points to hunt the type of game that was most common in their local area.

Using 20th Century anthropology terms, settling down and developing the atl-atl distinguishes the Archaic period culture from the Paleo-Indian period culture. The next significant change in culture, the shift from Archaic to the Woodland Period, is marked by the later adoption of agriculture, construction of burial mounds, and the development of pottery. Virginians during what we define today as the Archaic Period had the atl-atl and lived in defined locations for significant parts of the year, but did not have a key technology that would be developed later - the bow and arrow.

Paleo-Indians in Virginia

Woodland Indians in Virginia

soapstone quarried at Clifton in Fairfax County was hafted to wooden handles to create picks/chisels
soapstone quarried at Clifton in Fairfax County was hafted to wooden handles to create picks/chisels
Source: Stone implements of the Potomac-Chesapeake tidewater province (1887, Figure 17)

References

1. "Southeastern Prehistory: Paleoindian Period," Outline of Prehistory and History: Southeastern North America and the Caribbean, National Park Service, www.cr.nps.gov/seac/outline/02-paleoindian/index.htm (last checked July 4, 2012)
2. Margaret Kneller, Dorothy Peteet, "Late-Quaternary climate in the Ridge and Valley of Virginia, U.S.A.: Changes in vegetation and depositional environment: A contribution to the ‘North Atlantic seaboard programme’ of IGCP-253, ‘Termination of the Pleistocene’," Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol. 12, Number 8 (1993), pp. 613, dx.doi.org/10.1016/0277-3791(93)90003-5 (last checked July 4, 2012)
3. "Southeastern Prehistory: Archaic Period," Outline of Prehistory and History: Southeastern North America and the Caribbean, National Park Service, www.cr.nps.gov/seac/outline/03-archaic/index.htm (last checked July 4, 2012)

soapstone quarried at Clifton was carved by stages into bowls
soapstone quarried at Clifton was carved by stages into bowls
Source: Stone implements of the Potomac-Chesapeake tidewater province (p.123)


From Paleo-Indian to Woodland Cultures: Virginia's Early Native Americans
The Real First Families of Virginia
Virginia Places