Archaic Indians in Virginia

to hold Archaic points onto spears, sinew and plant fibers were strapped around notches at the bottom
to hold Archaic points onto spears, sinew and plant fibers were strapped around notches at the bottom
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 8,000BCE) is defined largely by a shift in the design of points. As the climate warmed and hardwood forests replaced the steppe and boreal forests, elk, buffalo, deer, and smaller mammals replaced the mastodons and mammoths.

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 12,000BCE, 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 sediment cores from Browns Pond (a sinkhole in Bath County). As the climate warmed and got wetter, deciduous forests extended up the mountains. The warmer, drier climate between 8,000-6,000BCE spurred the expansion of oaks, hickories, maples and beeches.1

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

In the Paleo-Indian Period, bands of hunters strapped large Clovis points onto long spears and killed mastodons and mammoths, and other large megafauna. Such hunts could have been a common event that could provide a major meal, or rare rituals to demonstrate "coming of age" and continued skill of adult hunters seeking prestige. Then climate change and over-hunting by the Paleo-Indians exterminated the large mammals.

The Archaic Period is marked by the adoption of smaller points, without the flakes chipped away in the center ("flutes") of Clovis points. When hunting smaller game, smaller points attacked to shorter spears were more effective:2

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.

Smaller points could also be placed on short spears and projected with atl-atls. Adoption of that technology also is a way to distinguish the Paleo-Indian vs. Archaic periods.

the atl-atl enabled people in the Archaic Period to throw stone-tipped projectiles further than spears
the atl-atl enabled people in the Archaic Period to throw stone-tipped projectiles further than spears
Source: Virginia Historical Society, Becoming a Homeplace

In the Archaic Period, the increase of deciduous trees in Virginia's forests produced more fruits and nuts, especially on the Coatal PLain that was being slowly flooded by the rising Atlantic Ocean. Habitats changed as the Ice Age ended, the megafauna such as mammoths disappeared, and smaller forest and grassland game became more common.

in the Archaic Period, after the demise of megafauna such as mammoths, the atl-atl was an effective tool for hunting caribou, elk and deer
in the Archaic Period, after the demise of megafauna such as mammoths, the atl-atl was an effective tool for hunting caribou, elk and deer
Source: Georgia Studies Images, Archaic Indian Hunting with Atlatl

People hunted a wider variety of animals and spent less time concentrated in the river bottoms. Bands of hunters and gatherers scattered more widely 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, perhaps because population growth led to more defined territories that were defended by different groups. Less-mobile groups utilized a wide range of stone to make their tools, and were no longer "tethered" to a few specific quarry sites that supplied the raw material for retocking the toolkit.

In the Archaic Period, people ranged through a particular set of river valleys that provided water, fruit, nuts, fish, game, plus stone for weapons and plant fibers for making baskets, clothing and shelters. The seasonal round required less travel. In different watersheds, people developed 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.

a Late Archaic settlement may have included soapstone slabs used in cooking and fish being smoked over a fire
a Late Archaic settlement may have included soapstone slabs used in cooking and fish being smoked over a fire
Source: National Park Service Southeast Archeological Center, Beneath These Waters

"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.

Settling down, utilizing different types of rocks to make tools, developing smaller points, and inventing the atl-atl distinguish the Archaic period culture from the Paleo-Indian period culture. Some groups also quarried steatite, a soft soapstone created when deep ocean basalt was metamorphosed during the formation of Pangea, to make stone bowls.

Previously, food had been eaten raw or cooked in containers manufactured from animal skins, bark, and plant fibers. Chunks of meat could be speared on a stick and roasted directly over a fire, but that was not feasible for seeds, roots, and other small food items. Those were converted into stews and soups.

Water, seeds, rots, and various parts of animal were placed into a container. Small stones were heated, then transferred from the fire and dropped carefully into the pot for indirect heating of the meal.

Unlike organic containers, steatite bowls could be placed in the embers of a fire for direct heating. Groups that carved stone bowls could extract more energy from food they gathered and hunted, including small scaps, but the heavy bowls made the groups less mobile.

steatite (soapstone) bowls allowed direct heating in a fire to cook soups and stews
steatite (soapstone) bowls allowed direct heating in a fire to cook soups and stews
Source: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Transitional Period

Rock outcrops in Fairfax County still show evidence of the extraction of the soft soapstone.

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)

Links

References

1. 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)
2. "Southeastern Prehistory: Paleoindian Period," Outline of Prehistory and History: Southeastern North America and the Caribbean, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/history/seac/hnc/outline/02-paleoindian/index.htm (last checked July 4, 2012)
3. "Southeastern Prehistory: Archaic Period," Outline of Prehistory and History: Southeastern North America and the Caribbean, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/history/seac/hnc/outline/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