The Social Impact of the Bow and Arrow on Prehistoric America

The Social Impact of the Bow and Arrow on Prehistoric America

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A new technology in weaponry, the introduction of the bow and arrow, might have led to the collapse of the prehistoric, American Hopewellian Culture somewhere between 450 to 500 AD. A socio-spiritual tripartite existed between the Scotio Hopewell cultures and these three communities congregated at times to bury their dead in communal mounds. Such religious ceremonies reinforced the alliances between the living and their ancestors and strengthened their kinship ties. However, something upset this alliance, which had a dramatic effect upon the cultures. Archaeologists noticed a reduction in the sizes of projectile points, which identifies the arrival of the bow and arrow to the scene. This may not seem such a huge event, but it impacted on the interdependence and sharing of food resources during communal gatherings. The bow being much more accurate than the spear, facilitated autonomous hunting by smaller groups, and eliminated the need for large scale hunting drives. Thus, a tripartite alliance could have collapsed, as is evident from a decline in joined burials. The introduction of the bow and arrow, and consequently more autonomous living, triggered an exploitation of wild game, an increase in the cultivation of crops, and a trend towards sedentary and nucleated communities.

The Hopewell Interaction Sphere and various local expressions of the Hopewell cultures by H Rowe ( CC BY-SA 3.0)

Timing of the Introduction of the Bow and Arrow

In archaeology, there are some tried and true ideas that stand the test of time, enduring careful scrutiny and the subsequent discovery of additional evidence. On the other side of the coin, there are ideas, which although enshrined and often repeated in a barrage of cognitive reinforcement, should have been cast to the winds long ago, in light of new discoveries and experiments. Since archaeological interpretation is a largely holistic endeavor incorporating multiple streams of knowledge and study, even one problematic concept, which has outlived its own credibility, can serve to blind researchers to the answers they seek or even derail entire fields of inquiry. One such problem in American archaeology is the timing of the introduction of the bow and arrow in the Eastern Woodlands.

Ancient America, 40,000 – 1500 b.c.

Land Bridge. The first immigrants to North America came to the continent between 40,000 and 10,000 b.c. in two large movements timed to the rhythmic shrinking and expanding of the world ’ s seas. Between what is today Alaska and Siberia a land bridge sixty miles long and a thousand miles wide emerged periodically as ocean waters receded to allow passage overland from Asia to America. The migration route into North America ran between glacial ridges to the northeast and southwest, and the first peoples worked their way south along the Canadian Rockies into the American Great Plains and from there to all points of the compass. The migrants came in three waves. The first consisted of what archaeologists call the Amerinds, the ancestors of most Native American peoples and the progenitors of most Native American languages. Second were the Na-D é n é , a cultural and linguistic group that gave rise to the Athapaskans of Canada and the American Southwest. Last were the Inuit, who populated the Arctic and moved eastward until they collided with the Vikings in Greenland.


Spear-thrower designs may include improvements such as thong loops to fit the fingers, the use of flexible shafts or stone balance weights. Dart shafts can be made thinner and highly flexible for added power and range, the fletching can be spiralized to add spin to the dart making it more stable and accurate. Darts resemble large arrows or small spears and are typically from 1.2 to 2.7 m (4 to 9 ft) in length and 9 to 16 mm (3/8" to 5/8") in diameter.

Another important improvement to the spear-thrower's design was the introduction of a small weight (between 60 and 80 grams) strapped to its midsection. Some atlatlists maintain that stone weights add mass to the shaft of the device, causing resistance to acceleration when swung and resulting in a more forceful and accurate launch of the dart. Others claim that spear-thrower weights add only stability to a cast, resulting in greater accuracy. [ citation needed ]

Based on previous work done by William S. Webb, William R. Perkins [6] claims that spear-thrower weights, commonly called "bannerstones", and characterized by a centered hole in a symmetrically shaped carved or ground stone, shaped wide and flat with a drilled hole and thus a little like a large wingnut, are an improvement to the design that created a silencing effect when swung. The use of the device would reduce the telltale "zip" of a swung atlatl to a more subtle "woof" sound that did not travel as far and was less likely to alert prey. Robert Berg's theory is that the bannerstone was carried by hunters as a spindle weight to produce string from natural fibers gathered while hunting, for the purpose of tying on fletching and hafting stone or bone points. [7]

Woomera Edit

The woomera design is distinctly different from most other spear-throwers, in that it has a curved, hollow shape, which allows for it to be used for other purposes (in some cases) such as carrying food.

Artistic designs Edit

Several Stone Age spear-throwers (usually now incomplete) are decorated with carvings of animals: the British Museum has a mammoth, and there is a hyena in France. Many pieces of decorated bone may have belonged to Bâtons de commandement. [ citation needed ]

The Aztec atlatl was often decorated with snake designs and feathers, [8] potentially evocative of its association with Ehecatl, the Aztec wind deity. [9]

Wooden darts were known at least since the Middle Paleolithic (Schöningen, Torralba, Clacton-on-Sea and Kalambo Falls). While the spear-thrower is capable of casting a dart well over one hundred meters, it is most accurately used at distances of twenty meters or less. The spearthrower is believed to have been in use by Homo sapiens since the Upper Paleolithic (around 30,000 years ago). [10] Most stratified European finds come from the Magdalenian (late upper Palaeolithic). In this period, elaborate pieces, often in the form of animals, are common. The earliest secure data concerning atlatls have come from several caves in France dating to the Upper Paleolithic, about 21,000 to 17,000 years ago. The earliest known example is a 17,500-year-old Solutrean atlatl made of reindeer antler, found at Combe Saunière (Dordogne), France. [11] It is possible that the atlatl was invented earlier than this, as Mungo Man from 42 000 BP displays arthritis in his right elbow, a pathology referred to today as the "Atlatl elbow," resulting from many years of forceful torsion from using an atlatl. [12] At present there is no evidence for the use of atlatls in Africa. Peoples such as the Maasai and Khoi San throw spears without any aids, but its use in hunting is limited in comparison to the spear thrower since the animal must be very close and already immobile.

During the Ice Age, the atlatl was used by humans to hunt Megafauna. Ice Age Megafauna offered a large food supply when other game was limited, and the atlatl gave more power to pierce their thicker skin. In this time period, atlatls were usually made of wood or bone. Improvements made to spears' edge made it more efficient as well. [13]

In Europe, the spear-thrower was supplemented by the bow and arrow in the Epi-Paleolithic. Along with improved ease of use, the bow offered the advantage that the bulk of elastic energy is stored in the throwing device, rather than the projectile arrow shafts can therefore be much smaller, and have looser tolerances for spring constant and weight distribution than atlatl darts. This allowed for more forgiving flint knapping: dart heads designed for a particular spear thrower tend to differ in mass by only a few percent. By the Iron Age, the amentum, a strap attached to the shaft, was the standard European mechanism for throwing lighter javelins. The amentum gives not only range, but also spin to the projectile. [14]

The spear-thrower was used by early Americans as well. It may have been introduced to America during the immigration across the Bering Land Bridge, [ citation needed ] and despite the later introduction of the bow and arrow, [ citation needed ] atlatl use was widespread at the time of first European contact. [ citation needed ] Atlatls are represented in the art of multiple pre-Columbian cultures, including the Basketmaker culture in the American Southwest, Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, and Moche in the Andes of South America. Atlatls were especially prominent in the iconography of the warriors of the Teotihuacan culture of Central Mexico. A ruler from Teotihucan named Spearthrower Owl is an important figure described in Mayan stelae. Complete wooden spear-throwers have been found on dry sites in the western United States and in waterlogged environments in Florida and Washington. Several Amazonian tribes also used the atlatl for fishing and hunting. Some even preferred this weapon over the bow and arrow, and used it not only in combat but also in sports competitions. Such was the case with the Tarairiu, a Tapuya tribe of migratory foragers and raiders inhabiting the forested mountains and highland savannahs of Rio Grande do Norte in mid-17th-century Brazil. Anthropologist Harald Prins offers the following description:

As referenced to earlier, the spear-thrower was an important part of life, hunting, and religion in the ancient Andes. The earliest known spear-thrower of the South Americas had a proximal handle piece and is commonly referred to as an estólica in Spanish references to indigenous Andean culture [ citation needed ] . Estólica and atlatl are therefore synonymous terms. The estólica" is best known archaeologically from Nazca culture and the Inca civilization, but the earliest examples are known from associations with Chinchorro mummies. [15] The estólica is also known from Moche culture, including detailed respresentations on painted pottery, and in representations on textiles of the Wari culture [16]

The Andean estólica had a wooden body with a hook that was made of stone or metal. These hooks have been found at multiple highland sites including Cerro Baúl, a site of the Wari culture. In the Andes, the tips of darts were often capped with metal. Arrow points commonly had the same appearance as these Andean tips [ citation needed ] . The length of a common estòlica was about 50 cm. Estólica handles were commonly carved and modeled to represent real world accounts like animals and deities. [17]

Examples of estòlicas with no handle pieces have been interpreted as childrens' toys [ citation needed ] . Archaeologists found decorated examples in the Moche culture burial of the Lady of Cao at El Brujo in the Chicama valley. At her feet was a group of twenty-three atlatls with handle pieces that depicted birds. These “theatrical” estòlicas are different from normal weapons. They are much longer (80-100 cm) than the regular examples (50-60cm). John Whittaker and Kathryn Kamp believe that they might have been part of a ceremony before the burial or symbolic references to indicate that the royal woman in the burial had been a warrior. [ citation needed ]

Estólicas are depicted along with maces, clubs, and shields on Moche vessels that illustrate warfare. [18] The atlatl appears in the artwork of Chavín de Huantar, such as on the Black and White Portal. [ citation needed ]

The atlatl, as used by these Tarairiu warriors, was unique in shape. About 88 cm (35 in) long and 3 to 4.5 cm ( 1 + 1 ⁄ 4 to 1 + 3 ⁄ 4 in) wide, this spear thrower was a tapering piece of wood carved of brown hard-wood. Well-polished, it was shaped with a semi-circular outer half and had a deep groove hollowed out to receive the end of the javelin, which could be engaged by a horizontal wooden peg or spur lashed with a cotton thread to the proximal and narrower end of the throwing board, where a few scarlet parrot feathers were tied for decoration. [Their] darts or javelins . were probably made of a two-meter long wooden cane with a stone or long and serrated hard-wood point, sometimes tipped with poison. Equipped with their uniquely grooved atlatl, they could hurl their long darts from a great distance with accuracy, speed, and such deadly force that these easily pierced through the protective armor of the Portuguese or any other enemy. [19]

Among the Tlingit of Southeast Alaska, approximately one dozen very old elaborately carved specimens they call "shee áan" (sitting on a branch) remain in museum collections [20] and private collections, one having sold at auction for more than $100,000. [ citation needed ]

In September 1997, an atlatl dart fragment, carbon dated to 4360 ± 50 14 C yr BP (TO 6870), was found in an ice patch on mountain Thandlät, the first of the southern Yukon Ice Patches to be studied. [21] [22] [23] : 363 [24] : 2

The people of New Guinea and Aboriginal people in Australia also use spear-throwers. In the mid Holocene, [25] Aboriginal people in Australia developed spear-throwers, known as woomeras. [26] [27]

As well as its practical use as a hunting weapon, it may also have had social effects. John Whittaker, an anthropologist at Grinnell College, Iowa, suggests the device was a social equalizer in that it requires skill rather than muscle power alone. Thus women and children would have been able to participate in hunting. [4]

Whittaker said the stone-tipped projectiles from the Aztec atlatl were not powerful enough to penetrate Spanish steel plate armor, but they were strong enough to penetrate the mail, leather and cotton armor that most Spanish soldiers wore. [8] Whittaker said the Aztecs started their battles with atlatl darts followed with melee combat using the macuahuitl. [8]

Another type of Stone Age artefact that is sometimes excavated is the bâton de commandement. These are shorter, normally less than one foot long, and made of antler, with a hole drilled through them. When first found in the nineteenth century, they were interpreted by French archaeologists to be symbols of authority, like a modern Field Marshal's baton, and so named bâtons de commandement ("batons of command"). Though debate over their function continues, tests with replicas have found them, when used with a cord, very effective aids to spear or dart throwing. [28] Another theory is that they were "arrow-straighteners". [ citation needed ]

Bian Jian (鞭箭, lit. 'Whip arrow') is a unique spear-thrower that was used during Song period. It can be described as a very long staff sling that throws a spear-sized dart instead of a rock-like projectile. It requires two operators unlike other spear-throwers. It should not be confused with another Bian Jian (邊箭).

Traditional military practices

Warfare prior to European colonisation varied by region, and much of the discussion below focuses on the northeast woodlands, but some patterns were commonly in evidence. In areas where large war parties could come together, formal battles occurred that were often highly ritualised and conducted in ways that limited the casualties. For instance, fur trader David Thompson recorded the following description by the Peigen elder, Saukamappee, of a battle with the Shoshone in the Eagle Hills region of Saskatchewan when he was a youth, long before the arrival of European guns and horses.

Attack on aboriginal fort
Attack on a fort during a battle between two Aboriginal nations. (Library and Archives Canada (C-92245))

Similarly, in 1609, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain fought a battle against the Iroquois, alongside his Montagnais allies. According to his detailed account of the encounter, the military practices were highly ritualistic and governed by strict rules. For example, when the two groups met on the shores of Lake Champlain, they negotiated the time at which the battle would take place. They decided to ‘wait until day to recognize each other and as soon as the sun rose’ they would wage battle. ‘The entire night was spent in dancing and singing,’ reports Champlain, with the two camps shouting ‘an infinite number of insults’ and threats at each other. When the sun rose, the armies, each made up of more than 200 warriors, faced each other in close ranks and approached calmly and slowly, preparing to join combat. All the warriors were armed with bows and arrows, and wore armour made of wood and bark woven with cotton. When Champlain and two other French soldiers opened fire with their arquebuses, they killed the three main Iroquois chiefs and the enemy retreated. Finally, hand-to-hand combat was engaged and the allies of the French captured 10 or 12 prisoners.

Iroquois Warrior with musket, c.1730
This man wears aboriginal clothing but is armed with a French military musket, acquired either through combat or trade, a war axe with an iron blade and a small scalping knife hung around his neck. Note the bayonet on the musket – although aboriginal warriors adopted European weapons, they did not adopt European tactics and were more likely to engage in hit and run ambushes than in stand-up, closequarter fighting. (Library and Archives Canada (C-003163))

Most Europeans were derisive of such relatively bloodless sport. It was “more of a pastime than to conquer or subdue enemies,” Captain John Underhill of Massachusetts Bay concluded after observing one such engagement. However, Europeans were less likely to witness the more common and more deadly raiding and ambushes that characterised the indigenous way of war across the continent. In the northeast woodlands and elsewhere, the advent of European firearms would quickly render such open field combat too costly according to indigenous cultural norms of war. After 1609, most observers reported that Aboriginal people did ‘not know how to fight in open country,’ and accounts of Aboriginal warfare usually described hit and run military techniques, which the French called ‘la petite guerre.’ This was essentially a form of guerrilla warfare, the primary goal of which was to inflict casualties, capture prisoners and take scalps, while suffering as few losses as possible. To do so, the warriors generally moved in small groups and took pains to catch the enemy unawares or encircle it, while eluding the same tactics by the other side. They took advantage of the terrain to remain concealed and ambush the enemy, or slipped into a camp by night to surprise the occupants in their sleep. Once they had achieved their objective, the warriors retreated before a counter-attack could be mounted.

While it suited conditions in the forests of North America, Aboriginal guerrilla warfare was far removed from European methods of the time. To Europeans, who believed that rigid discipline was essential to produce a soldier capable of producing maximum fire through massed formation in the open, the Aboriginal warriors generally seemed to be undisciplined fighters without any sense of tactics. Moreover, “skulking” behind trees was viewed as cowardly, and actually aiming, particularly at officers, was unsporting and barbaric. Writing in 1715, the renowned French officer Louis Laporte de Louvigny described Aboriginal warriors as:

However, Aboriginal warriors had a high regard for their own tactics, and were themselves often dismissive of Europeans modes of combat, which they considered courageous folly. For example, Makataimeshekiakiak (Black Sparrowhawk), a Sauk war chief who fought in the War of 1812, wrote:

Instead of taking every opportunity to kill the enemy and preserve the lives of their own men (which among us is considered sound policy for a war chief), they advance in the open and fight, with no regard for the number of warriors they may lose! When the battle is over, they withdraw to celebrate and drink wine, as if nothing had happened, after which they set down a written declaration on what they have done, each side claiming victory! And neither of the two records half the dead in his own camp. They all fought bravely but would be no match for us at war. Our maxim is ‘kill the enemy and save our own men.’ These [white] chiefs are fine for paddling a canoe but not for steering it.

Native-Newcomer contact brought two distinct military systems into interaction in North America, and initiated a process of mutual learning and borrowing.

Nearly a hundred skeletons buried in a cave in southeast Utah offer grisly evidence that ancient Americans waged war on each other as much as 2,000 years ago, according to new research.

Dozens of bodies, dating from the first century CE, bear clear signs of hand-to-hand combat: skulls crushed as if by cudgels limbs broken at the time of death and, most damning, weapons still lodged in the back, breast and pelvic bones of some victims — including stone points, bone awls, and knives made of obsidian glass.

Signs of violence were evident in 58 of the approximately 90 bodies found in the cave. Most of the victims were men, but at least 16 women were also found among the dead, as well as nearly 20 children, some as young as three months old.

Since the discovery of this prehistoric charnel house — known to archaeologists as Cave 7 — more than a hundred years ago, there has been little doubt about the violence visited upon those interred there.

But anthropologists continue to debate what that violence meant — specifically, whether Cave 7 was simply a burial ground for casualties of individual conflicts and small skirmishes over centuries, or whether it was more like a war cemetery, where victims were put to rest after a single, catastrophic conflict between cultures. Cave 7 in southeastern Utah as it appears today

The site was first excavated in 1893 by Richard Wetherill — the self-taught archaeologist who also led digs at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon — and it was a historic discovery in many regards. Judging by the artifacts and other clues found around them, the mutilated bodies were the first evidence of a new people: a pre-ceramic culture that predated the Ancestral Pueblo. From the handiwork they left behind, Wetherill called them “Basket People,” later to be known as Basketmakers, a culture that thrived in the Southwest from about 500 BCE until 750 CE or later.

But the significance of this find was almost overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding the Basketmakers’ deaths. The carnage found in Cave 7 could only be explained, Wetherill concluded, by the “sudden and violent destruction of a community by battle or massacre.”

And this interpretation held for more than a century, until 2012, when radiocarbon dating of some of the bones from the cave showed that the burials actually spanned many centuries — from the first century CE to the early 300s — suggesting that the dead represented several, smaller conflicts over time.

Now, a new analysis of the Cave 7 remains finds that, while the dates do cover a range, the victims of violence in particular appear to date from the same period, intimating that they’re evidence of a “single-event mass killing.”

In a recent study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Dr. Phil Geib of the University of New Mexico and Utah archaeologist Winston Hurst obtained new radiocarbon dates for some of the remains, but they also relied heavily on a traditional standard of archaeology: context.

Drawing on Wetherill’s original field notes, as well as photographs and other documentation, they determined the positions of the bodies within layers of sediment, and also in relation to each other, to assess which were buried together.

In doing this, they identified four sets of remains that were clearly buried in tandem — each from slightly different parts of the cave, some bearing obvious signs of violence, others not — to serve as samples for the new radiocarbon dating. Members of Richard Wetherill’s Hyde Exploring Expedition Crew excavating Cave 7 in the 1890s (University of Pennsylvania Museum)

The first group consisted of eight adult men, their bodies flexed and their faces turned toward the mouth of the cave, all but one of whom exhibited signs of what the scientists call “extreme cranial trauma.”

The second featured the body of a young woman with three children positioned on her breast, ranging in age from one to three years, none of which showed any skeletal damage.

The third included seven skeletons seemingly stacked in a haphazard pile, four of them males that had clearly suffered yet more “cephalic brutalization.”

The fourth burial was that of four adult women, one of whom may have been injured at the time of death, and another young child.

Analysis of collagen, a protein, extracted from 11 bone samples among these four groups showed that three of the groups dated to around the same time — from about 1,915 to 1,950 years ago, within the dating process’s margins of error.

Only the remains in the second group, the undamaged female skeleton with the three children, were slightly more recent, dating to about 1,880 years ago.

While Geib and Hurst don’t contest that the 90-some dead in Cave 7 were likely buried at more than one time, these results lead them to conclude that the site’s most salient feature — the nearly five dozen brutalized bodies — were indeed the result of a single massacre. A Basketmaker II projectile point (Photographer: Ryan Belnap, Bilby Researcher Center, Northern Arizona University)

“Regardless of how many other separate interments there were …,” they write, “it is evident that the bulk of the Cave 7 assemblage was interred at the same time and consisted of victims of a mass killing.”

The researchers note that the majority of the victims who suffered the most obvious deadly force were men — 35 of the 58 bludgeoned bodies. This suggests a more “preferential” approach to killing used among familiar groups, they say, as opposed to the indiscriminate murder of men, women, and children of all ages that’s usually seen in conflicts between different cultural or ethnic groups.

So rather than an act of genocide, the Cave 7 massacre was probably part of a large, but internecine, war within Basketmaker culture, they say, “a clear example of internal warfare.” [Read more about the role of sex in studying mass graves: “Infamous Mass Grave of Young Women in Ancient City of Cahokia Also Holds Men: Study“]

And they go on to point out that, armed with little more than cudgels, knives, and spear-throwing atlatls, there probably would have to have been twice as many attackers as victims, in order to exact the damage seen in the cave.

And yet, all archaeological evidence suggests that Basketmakers at this time lived only in scattered, remote farms, with no more than a few families sharing space. In fact, they note, the largest community in the region — a complex called Rock Island — included no more than nine small pithouses, probably not large enough to account for all the victims in the cave.

So, to the scientists, Cave 7 “suggests collective action far beyond anything that archaeologists can infer at this time from all other evidence,” they write. “It implies a form of social organization and cooperation, even if fleeting, that far exceeds in scale the social units of Basketmaker residential sites or even clusters of such sites.”

Such “massacre assemblages,” Geib and Hurst say, “are the sine qua non for war.”

And indeed, the violence betrayed by Cave 7 was probably of such tremendous scope that, even 2,000 years ago, it may have been considered history-making.

“This incident … doubtless had a significant social impact at the time because of its scale, reverberating throughout the early farming communities of the Southwest,” they write.

Woodland Period

by Michael Perry
© Copyright 1996 The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.

The technological and subsistence practices developed during the Archaic period continued to be used by later populations. But a number of major social, technological, and economic developments are evident in the archaeological record of the Woodland period (500 B.C.- A.D. 1000). These developments include bow and arrow hunting, pottery production, plant domestication and cultivation, and burial mound construction.

During the Woodland period, climatic conditions approached modern averages, landform development stabilized in most places except in flood plains and stream channels, and vegetation patterns were much like the forest-prairie mix documented by nineteenth- century land surveys. Woodland peoples refined their hunter-gatherer adaptations, making heavy use of fish and clams in major river valleys, and continuing to exploit deer and bison. Woodland farmers developed domesticated varieties of some native plants long before corn or beans became important. The principal early cultivated plants included gourds, sumpweed , goosefoot , sunflower, knotweed , little barley, and maygrass .

Early Woodland settlements (500-100 B.C.) in the Midwest were small and seasonally occupied. Early Woodland subsistence patterns in Iowa are not well known, but they probably involved broad-based procurement of mammals, birds, and aquatic species. Early Woodland peoples built large burial mounds similar to some in Ohio, and they interacted with groups throughout the Midwest, as evidenced by artifacts made of exotic raw materials. The typical Early Woodland spear point was a straight stemmed or contracting stemmed point, and pottery of the period includes both a thick, flat-bottomed type (500-300 B.C.) and a thinner, bag-shaped type often decorated with incised lines in geometric patterns (300-100 B.C.). Early Woodland sites are relatively common in the Mississippi Valley but are difficult to identify in central and western Iowa. Perhaps groups on the eastern Great Plains retained an Archaic lifestyle during this period, making remains of their settlements difficult to distinguish from older occupations. Sites from this period may also have become deeply buried and can not be found using common survey methods.

The Middle Woodland period (100 B.C.-A.D. 300) is noted for its refined artworks, complex mortuary program, and extensive trade networks. Middle Woodland communities throughout the Midwest were linked by a network archaeologists refer to as the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. The Hopewell Interaction Sphere involved the dissemination of ideas about social organization and relationships, technology, and economic activities from centers of Hopewellian culture in Illinois and Ohio. Hopewell network participants exchanged exotic raw materials such as Knife River flint from North Dakota and obsidian from the Yellowstone Park area. Also traded were artifacts of Gulf coast marine shell, Great Lakes copper, mica from Appalachia, galena from the Dubuque and Galena localities, and several pipestones derived from Minnesota, Illinois, and Ohio. High quality ceramic vessels with elaborate decoration were produced for trade, utilitarian, and mortuary purposes. Perishable materials which have not survived archaeologically also may have been traded. Hopewell-related populations spread into Iowa from settlements along the Mississippi River, establishing small outposts at points along the major rivers in eastern Iowa, and may have ventured into southwestern Iowa from a Hopewellian center near Kansas City.

Elaboration of the mortuary program to include more extensive mound construction is one of the more visible signs of increased levels of social and political complexity. Toolesboro Mounds State Preserve, located near Wapello in southeastern Iowa, is an excellent example of a Hopewell mound group. Individuals who were buried in mounds may have occupied positions of high status among Middle Woodland societies, since mound excavations frequently encountered skeletal remains associated with the finely pottery, stone tools, pipes, and other items produced from exotic raw materials that characterize Hopewell culture. If variation in burial treatment reflects status differentiation, a class of social or religious leaders developed among Hopewell-related populations.

Trading and ceremonial activities aside, most Middle Woodland peoples probably lived in small communities or farmsteads, focusing their subsistence economy on food resources in large river valleys and tending gardens of squash, tobacco, marshelder, and goosefoot. Typical Middle Woodland tools included broad, corner-notched spear points and finely made, thin blades. Middle Woodland pottery was characterized by rather thick-walled, conoidal or bag-shaped vessels decorated with combinations of bosses, incised lines, and stamping with a toothed or cord-wrapped stick, usually in a zone around the upper part of the pot. The influence of Hopewell culture in Iowa diminished abruptly after about A.D. 200. The changes in social relationships brought about by the end of Hopewell are paralleled by changes in pottery styles and other artifacts.

Middle Woodland pottery in western Iowa consisted of thick-walled conoidal vessels that were often heavily cord-roughened on the exterior surface. The pots were not as elaborately decorated as the Middle Woodland pottery found in the Mississippi valley, but similar decorative elements were employed. Projectile point styles were also similar to those found in eastern Iowa, with broad-bladed, corner-notched knives and straight or contracting stemmed points. Middle Woodland people in central and western Iowa retained the pattern of small, temporary settlements that had developed during the Archaic period. In north-central Iowa, settlements were placed near the shores of natural lakes, where native plants such as wild rice and arrowhead could be exploited. Fish and waterfowl also were exploited from lake shore settlements. In contrast to the commonly found Middle Woodland sites of eastern Iowa, sites of this period are difficult to locate in western Iowa. Artifacts dating to this period in western Iowa are usually found in the channels of streams and rivers, where erosion or channel straightening have cut through buried occupational horizons. Such horizons may occasionally be found in the walls of deep gullies and stream banks.

The Late Woodland period (A.D. 300-1000) was one of remarkable change. The continent-wide exchange of exotic goods declined but interaction between communities and regions continued. Population levels apparently increased rapidly. In some parts of Iowa, Late Woodland peoples aggregated into large, planned villages, but in most of the state settlements continued to be small and generally became more dispersed across the landscape. Uplands and small interior valleys became settled or more heavily utilized. Late Woodland peoples introduced the bow and arrow into the Midwest. Continued native crop horticulture and diversified hunting and gathering provided the subsistence base through most of the period. Corn was introduced to many groups around A.D. 800 but did not form a staple crop until the Late Prehistoric period.

Pottery technology changed greatly during the Late Woodland period, resulting in the production of much thinner-walled cooking vessels. Between A.D. 300 and 600, pottery decoration was simple, using a fingertip or stamping with a plain or cord wrapped stick. By about A.D.600 the use of stamping in pottery decoration was replaced by cord impressing, in which a twisted cord was pressed into the moist clay of the completed but unfired pot. A similar technique involved the use of a woven fabric of twisted cords to produce a complex design around the rim of a pot.

Mound construction was generally simpler than in the Middle Woodland period, but regular aggregations for ritual and other purposes are reflected in hundreds of Late Woodland mound groups found throughout the state. Groups of linear, effigy, and conical mounds in northeastern Iowa form a distinctive element of the Effigy Mound Culture (A.D. 650-1000). Effigy Mounds National Monument, near Marquette, Iowa, contains mounds in the shapes of birds, bears, and other forms. Effigy Mound populations may have lived in dispersed groups in the interior of northeast Iowa during much of the year, coalescing regularly in the Mississippi valley to exploit the vast array of seasonally available resources. The dwelling sites of Effigy Mound peoples show such a seasonal settlement pattern involving fish and shellfish collection during warm seasons in the main river valleys, nut harvesting in uplands in the fall, and winter use of rockshelters. The effigy mound groups along the Mississippi bluff line may have signified the territories of loosely related nuclear or extended family units which met seasonally and merged into larger social units.

Suggested Reading

Benn, David W.
1980 Hadfield's Cave: A Perspective on Late Woodland Culture in Northeastern Iowa.
Report 13. Office of the State Archaeologist, Iowa City.

Benn, David W. (editor)
1990 Woodland Cultures on the Western Prairies: The Rainbow Site Investigations.
Report 18. Office of the State Archaeologist, Iowa City.

Brose, David S., and N'omi Greber (editors)
1979 Hopewell Archaeology: The Chillicothe Conference. Kent State University Press,
Kent, Ohio.

Farnsworth, Kenneth B., and Thomas E. Emerson (editors)
1986 Early Woodland Archaeology. Center for American Archeology Press, Kampsville

Logan, Wilfred D.
1976 Woodland Complexes in Northeastern Iowa. Publications in Archaeology 15.
National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Mallam, R. Clark
1976 The Iowa Effigy Mound Manifestation: An Interpretive Model. Report 9.
Office of the State Archaeologist, Iowa City.
1976 The Mound Builders: An American Myth. Journal of the Iowa Archeological
Society 23:145-175.

Perry, Michael J.
1987 Late Woodland Ceramics in Southeastern Iowa: A Perspective from the lower
Skunk valley. Journal of the Iowa Archeological Society 34:57-62.

Roper, Donna C.
1994 A Randolph Phase Winter Camp in the White Breast Creek Valley. Journal of
the Iowa Archeological Society 41:76-107.

Theler, James L.
1987 Woodland Tradition Economic Strategies: Animal Resource Utilization in
Southwestern Wisconsin and Northeastern Iowa. Report 17. Office of the State
Archaeologist Iowa City.

Tiffany, Joseph A., Shirley J. Schermer, James L. Theler, Douglas W. Owsley, Duane C. Anderson, E. Arthur Bettis III, and Dean M. Thompson
1988 The Hanging Valley Site (13HR28): A Stratified Woodland Burial Locale in
Western Iowa. Plains Anthropologist 33:219-259.

Weitzel, Timothy S. and William Green
1994 Weaver Ceramics from the Gast Farm Site (13LA12), Southeastern Iowa. Journal
of the Iowa Archeological Society 41:76-107.


Mediante el uso de varios métodos para distinguir entre dart y puntas de flechas, los arqueólogos han sugerido que el arco y flecha apareció en diversas partes del mundo entre ˜65,000 y 1,000 años atrás. Hildebrandt y Rey (2012) propone un dardo de flecha índice (DAI) para ayudar a diferenciar dart y puntas de flechas, rechazando las afirmaciones de que el arco y fieche se introdujo al oeste de América del Norte antes de fines del Holoceno. Hemos utilizado la DAI y otros métodos para evaluar ˜11,700 años de puntas de proyectil en Isla Santa Rosa, obteniendo valores promedio por debajo del umbral de dardos, comparable a la de diversos flecha América del Norte tipos de punto. Nosotros no tenemos una evidencia directa de que estos pequeños puntos se utilizaron a los dardos, flechas, o la mano produce de lanzas, pero asociaciones faunisticas sugieren que podrían haber servido como puntas de arpón atlatl dardos para capturar aves, peces y mamíferos marinos. Los DAI y otros métodos para discriminar entre dart y las puntas de flecha se basan casi exclusivamente en muestras etnográficas y arqueológicas de las regiones del interior. Nuestro análisis sugiere que el empleo de estos métodos no debe aplicarse en todo el mundo, especialmente en las zonas costeras o en otros entornos acuáticos, y que los arqueólogos deben seguir para evaluar críticamente la antigóedad del arco y fleche y la función de puntas de proyectil.

Oldest Neolithic bow discovered in Europe

Researchers from UAB and CSIC have discovered the oldest Neolithic bow in Europe at La Draga Neolithic site in Banyoles yields. The complete bow measures 108 cm long and was constructed of yew wood.

Archaeological research carried out at the Neolithic site of La Draga, near the lake of Banyoles, has yielded the discovery of an item which is unique to the western Mediterranean and Europe. The item is a bow dating from the period between 5400-5200 BCE, corresponding to the earliest period of settlement. It is the first bow to be found intact at the site. It can be considered the most ancient bow of the Neolithic period found in Europe.

The bow is 108 cm long and presents a plano-convex section. It is made out of yew wood (Taxus baccata) as were the majority of Neolithic bows in Europe.

In previous archaeological digs, fragments of two bows were found (in 2002 and 2005) also from the same time period, but since they are fragmented it is impossible to analyze their characteristics in depth. The current discovery opens new perspectives in understanding how these farming communities lived and organized themselves. These bows could have served different purposes, such as hunting, although if one takes into account that this activity was not all that common in the La Draga area, it cannot be ruled out that the bows may have represented elements of prestige or been related to defensive or confrontational activities. Remains have been found of bows in Northern Europe (Denmark, Russia) dating from between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE among hunter-gatherer groups, although these groups were from the Paleolithic period, and not the Neolithic.

The majority of bows from the Neolithic period in Europe can be found in central and northern Europe. Some fragments of these Neolithic bows from central Europe date from the end of the 6th millennium BCE, between 5200-5000 BCE, although generally they are from later periods, often more than a thousand years newer than La Draga. For this reason archaeologists can affirm that the three bows found at La Draga are the most ancient bows in Europe from the Neolithic period.

A new study will analyze aspects of the technology, survival strategies and social organization of the first farming communities which settled in the Iberian Peninsula.

The research carried out at the La Draga site is financed by the Department of Culture of the Government of Catalonia and the Spanish Ministry for Economy and Competitiveness. This project is being conducted under the coordination of the County Archaeological Museum of Banyoles, with the participation of the UAB Department of Prehistory, the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology of the CSIC Institute Milà i Fontanals, the National Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia and the Centre for Underwater Archaeology of Catalonia. The excavation includes the participation of archaeology students from UAB and other universities in Spain and Europe.

The Neolithic people of La Draga, Banyoles

La Draga is located in the town of Banyoles, belonging to the county of Pla de l'Estany, and is an archaeological site corresponding to the location in which one of the first farming communities settled in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula. The site is located on the eastern part of the Banyoles Lake and dates back to 5400 and 5000 BCE. The site occupies 8000 sq m and stretches out 100 m along the lake's shore and 80 m towards the east. Part of the site is totally submerged in the lake, while other parts are located on solid ground. The first digs were conducted between the years 1990 and 2005, under the scientific leadership of the County Archaeological Museum of Banyoles. Since 1994, excavations were also carried out by the Centre for Underwater Research (Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia).

The current project (2008-2013) includes participation by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Spanish National Research Council.

The site at La Draga is exceptional for several reasons. Firstly, due to its antiquity, which is considered to be one of the oldest of the Neolithic period existing in the Iberian Peninsula. Secondly, because it is an open-air site with a fairly continuous occupation. Lastly, and surely most remarkably, because of the exceptional conditions in which it is conserved. The archaeological levels are located in the phreatic layer surrounding Lake Banyoles, giving way to anaerobic conditions which favour the conservation of organic material. These circumstances make La Draga a unique site in all of the Iberian Peninsula, since it is the only one known to have these characteristics. In Europe, together with Dispilo in Greece and La Marmota in Italy, it is one of the few lake settlements from the 6th millennium BCE.

North Carolina's First Colonists: 12,000 Years Before Roanoke

Four hundred years ago the English Roanoke colonists met numerous native inhabitants along the coast of what would become the state of North Carolina. Even earlier, during the 1540s, Spanish explorers under the leadership of Hernando de Soto "discovered" several Indian groups occupying the interior regions of the Carolinas. Today we know that the coastal Indians were part of a larger group occupying the entire mid-Atlantic coastal area, identifiable by a shared language and culture called Algonkian. The Native Americans whom de Soto met included Siouan, Iroquoian and Muskogean speakers, whose descendants are now recognized as the historic tribes of the Catawba, Cherokee and Creek Indians. Within a very short period of time--some 50 years--after those first contacts, the early European explorers of North Carolina had met, interacted with, and begun the process of significant cultural displacement of all the major native groups in the state.

What can we learn about those Indian groups from accounts of the earliest European explorers? Surviving chronicles from de Soto and the Roanoke colonists include many details of the land and its potential or imagined wealth. But with the notable exceptions of the John White paintings and Thomas Hariot's writings, we possess surprisingly little knowledge about the early historic Indians who lived in our state. Tantalizing bits of information can be gleaned from the early series of exploration accounts, but when the actual diversity and complexities of "Indian" culture are considered, we must conclude that their description by explorers was incidental to those for geography, searches for treasure, or daily hardships of the first European explorers.

The later colonial period of North Carolina history likewise exhibits an unfortunate lack of interest on the part of white Americans for details of Indian life. Although colonial government records included brief descriptions of military expeditions and political affairs involving Indian populations, detailed pictures of Indian culture elude modern researchers. Despite crucial involvement of the Carolina Indians in colonial economic ventures, as suppliers of skins for the enormously profitable deerskin trade, as military allies or, too frequently, as slaves, most knowledge we do have comes from unofficial sources. Only the observations of a few men like John Lederer, William Bartram and John Lawson give us even an incomplete view of declining Indian cultures, one roughly comparable to the purposely detailed accounts of White and Hariot. Indeed, it would not be inaccurate to say that the writings of Lawson and Hariot, supplemented by White's paintings, constitute the best history of American Indians in North Carolina until the nineteenth century, by which time much of Indians' culture was gone forever. Population estimates, locations and accurate names for various tribal groups, and clear descriptions of Indian political and social life unfortunately cannot be gained from historical documents alone.

And what about the ancestors of those historic period Indians? Where did they come from, and how do we know anything at all about their cultures? None of the native cultures in North Carolina had any sort of written language. They relied instead on oral traditions for their origins, myths and histories. Most of our knowledge of North Carolina's prehistoric inhabitants comes from the scant early historical accounts and, especially, the types of information that can be gained through archaeology.

Archaeology is the discipline which provides extensive time depth to studies of change in human societies, population distributions, and cultural adaptations in response to long-term environmental changes. Archaeology is the science (some would say an art) which provides us with answers to questions about the very first "colonists" in North Carolina. In the most general sense, archaeology is the study of human societies for which no or few written records exist, through the careful recovery and analysis of the material remains--the "artifacts"--of these extinct cultures. Archaeology is a branch of anthropology, which involves other types of humanistic and scientific studies of human cultures.

Archaeology is also a discipline with its own set of capabilities and limitations. Trained in methods of excavation, analysis and report writing, archaeologists devote considerable time to adapting the skills of many other disciplines to their own advantage. Application of scholarly techniques from zoology, chemistry, physics, botany, mathematics and computer studies enables archaeologists to explore the immense complexity of environments and cultures which surrounded our ancestors.

Archaeologists trace the chronicle of Native Americans to at least 12,000 years ago. The earliest aboriginal groups reached North Carolina not long after people first crossed into the New World from Siberia during the final stages of the last Ice Age, or Pleistocene era. The distinctive fluted projectile points used by the earliest Indian groups show remarkable similarities across the American continents. The distributions of such artifacts suggest rapid population growth and movement of the initial colonizing bands of people through Canada and the Great Plains, and into the eastern woodlands of which North Carolina is a part.

PaleoIndians, as archaeologists call those first people, were well adapted, technologically and socially, to climates, vegetation and animal populations very different from those of today. The late Pleistocene era saw wetter, cooler weather conditions as a general rule for areas like the Eastern Seaboard, which was some distance from the southern reaches of the glacial ice. Now-extinct elephants (mastodons and mammoths), wild horses, ground sloths, camels and giant bison roamed the forests and grasslands of our area. Animals not extinct, but now absent from the Southeast, included moose, caribou, elk and porcupine. PaleoIndians preyed on these animals, using their meat, skins and other parts for food, clothing, tools and other needs. They also devoted considerable time to gathering wild plant foods and likely fished and gathered shellfish in coastal and riverine environments.

Native groups who followed the PaleoIndians are called Archaic cultures by archaeologists. Those people occupied eastern North America during a long time period from about 9000 to 2000 B.C., and were the direct descendants of the PaleoIndians. Archaic Indians improved techniques of fishing, gathering and hunting for post-glacial (Holocene) environments, which differed from the Pleistocene. Forest types in the Southeast gradually became more like those of today, as weather patterns changed and the vast glacial ice sheets retreated from the margins of North America.

Archaeologists see Archaic cultures as very successful adaptations to the new forest communities and animal populations of those times. Archaic people made a wide variety of stone, wood, basketry and other tools, that reflect the varied subsistence patterns of generalized fishing, gathering and hunting of the many different species of plants and animals that shared their post-glacial environments. Archaic people possessed great knowledge of their environments and the potential food and raw material sources that surrounded them. Their camps and villages occur as archaeological sites throughout North Carolina, on high mountain ridges, along river banks, and across the Piedmont hills..

Archaic people did lack three things, however, that most people associate with prehistoric Indians. These cultural elements are: bows and arrows, pottery and plant agriculture. In fact, the acceptance of these elements into North Carolina's Archaic cultures marks the transition to the next cultural stage called Woodland.

No overnight change from a pre-ceramic, non-agricultural Archaic stage to Woodland times is recognizable in the archaeological record. Instead, there was very gradual and piecemeal adoption of these new traits into local groups' cultural patterns. For example, there probably were several "beginnings" of pottery manufacture by North Carolina Indians. Agriculture likewise underwent a long period of acceptance. Woodland Indians continued to follow most of the subsistence practices of their Archaic forebears, hunting, fishing, and gathering during periods of seasonal abundance of deer, turkeys, shad and acorns. Labor was committed to tasks of clearing fields, planting and harvesting crops like sunflowers, squash, gourds, beans and maize only when it was certain that those efforts could assure surpluses needed for winter and early spring months when natural food sources were sparse.

Bow and arrow equipment was also an innovation of the Woodland stage, although the ultimate origin of that hunting technology is unknown. Small triangular and stemmed projectile points, suitable in terms of size and weight for attachment to arrow shafts, are recovered for the first time on Woodland period sites. Prior to then, the hafted stone tools of Archaic and PaleoIndians were used for spears, knives and dart points (used with spear throwers, or atlatls). Use of bows and arrows probably led to shifts in hunting patterns among Woodland Indians, since the primary game animals like white tail deer could now be harvested efficiently by single, stalking hunters.

Despite the introduction of these new elements into prehistoric Indian lifeways, much remained the same. Woodland Indians continued patterns of seasonal exploitation of many game and plant resources. Archaeological sites from the period, which began some time around 2000 B.C., are found on all portions of the landscape, although there was a tendency to settle in larger, semi-permanent villages along stream valleys, where soils were suitable for Woodland farming practices utilizing hoes and digging sticks.

The house patterns, defensive walls (or palisades), and substantial storage facilities at some sites also demonstrate that Woodland Indians were more committed to settled village life than their Archaic predecessors. Distributions of ceramic (pottery) styles and other artifacts suggest to archaeologists that Woodland Indians began to recognize territorial boundaries. The more obvious boundaries may reflect early language groups of the Siouan, Iroquoian and Algonkian Indians later met by the Europeans. Intangible cultural elements cannot be recovered from archaeological deposits at any site, of course, so related questions about tribal affiliations, language or religious practices will remain unanswered forever.

Woodland cultures dominated most of North Carolina well into the historic period. Most Indian groups met by early European explorers followed Woodland economic and settlement patterns, occupying small villages and growing crops of maize, tobacco, beans and squash, while still devoting considerable effort to obtaining natural foods like deer, turkey, nuts and fish. A few cultural elements, however, suggest that some Indians had adopted religious and political ideas from a fourth major prehistoric tradition, called Mississippian. Archaeologists recognize certain patterns of artifacts, settlement plans and economics that distinguish Mississippian Indian culture from earlier or perhaps contemporary Woodland occupations.

Mississippian culture can be described neatly as an intensification of Woodland practices of pottery-making, village life and agriculture. But much more was involved in the distinction, especially in terms of political and religious organization and associated militarism. Mississippian culture had few representatives in prehistoric North Carolina. Exceptions are the so-called Pee Dee Indians, who constructed and occupied the major regional center at Town Creek (Montgomery County), and ancestral mountain Cherokee groups. Mississippian-type town centers are more common to the south and west of North Carolina. Centers typically included one or more flat-topped, earthen "temple" mounds, public areas and buildings ("council houses") used for religious and political assemblies. Wooden palisades, earthen moats or embattlements were placed around many villages for defensive purposes.

Mississippian societies described by early French and Spanish explorers were organized along strict lines of social hierarchies determined by heredity or exploits in war. Military aggressiveness was an important part of Mississippian culture, serving to gain and defend territories, group prestige and favored trade and tribute networks. The surviving, and often flamboyant, artifact inventories from Mississippian sites reflect needs for personal status identification and perpetuation of favored lineages. Pottery vessels were made in new and elaborate shapes, often as animal and human effigy forms other artifacts of exotic copper, shell, wood and feathers mirror the emblematic needs of the noble classes to confirm their status. Far-reaching trade and tribute networks were maintained at great expense to provide necessary items to the ruling classes of Mississippian Indian groups throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

The direct involvement of North Carolina Indians with those large, powerful Mississippian groups is difficult for archaeologists to measure. Minor elements of Mississippian culture may be found in various parts of our state, at least in the forms of pottery designs or ornaments connected with religious or political symbolism. Algonkian Indians met by the Roanoke colonists exhibited some religious ties with Mississippian practices more common in the far South. Cherokee religion and certain traits of pottery manufacture likewise may hint at more "elaborate" parallels in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and elsewhere in the heart of Mississippian territory. Ancestral ties of language or other cultural elements probably always linked North Carolina's Indians more closely with northern and western traditions, however, and such associations may have prevented the total acceptance of Mississippian cultural traits so pervasive in other Southeastern regions.

Through the 18th and 19th centuries, Native Americans in the eastern and central portions of North Carolina were largely displaced as the colony's and state's frontiers were populated by Euro-American and African-American colonists, farmers, slaves and townspeople. Some Indian "tribes" in the coastal and piedmont regions voluntarily relocated in advance of colonial frontier expansion. Painfully direct results of armed conflicts like the Tuscarora and Yemassee Wars included forced removals of native populations onto a few small reservations. More commonly, native populations were forced to join allied tribes in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere.

Native Americans who avoided direct involvement in such situations nevertheless participated in larger systems of colonial politics, settlement and trade that produced far-reaching disruptions of their traditional cultural patterns. The historical effects of disease on native populations may never be precisely defined, for instance, but the aggregate effects included major population displacements, or splitting up and reconsolidation of populations (especially across the Piedmont).

The fracturing of social ties, group identities, and loss of native languages and other cultural elements during the 18th and 19th centuries persisted into the 20th. Some of these problems have been addressed through Federal and state government recognition of modern Indian tribes and communities, which began, for a variety of legal and social purposes, in the early 19th century and which continues today.

There are at present several modern Native American groups in North Carolina--direct descendants of prehistoric and early historic ancestors recognized in archaeological and historical records. Groups include: Indians of Person County Haliwa-Saponi Coharie Cumberland County Association of Indian People Lumbee Waccamaw-Siouan Guilford Native American Association Metrolina Native American Association and, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Some 70,000 Native Americans now reside in North Carolina and are represented by those tribal governments or corporate structures and through the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs.

Archaeological information is imperfect archaeologists are limited in what they can explain by vagaries of preservation, modern destruction of sites, and the simple fact that many cultural elements leave no direct traces in the ground. But archaeology exists as the only science with the techniques, theories and evaluative frameworks for providing any information on the 12,000 or more years of human occupation which occurred before the "discovery" of the New World only 500 or so years ago. The inherent curiosity that we possess about things that are old, mysterious or simply unfamiliar expands quite naturally into a desire to truly understand how prehistoric North Carolinians lived, adapted and thrived. Archaeology provides us the means to achieve that goal.

Reprinted with permission from The Ligature©, NC Division of Archives and History (1986). Revised 15 March, 1996

History of the Arawak Amerindians, Taino religion technology and culture.

Guides » Taino Amerindians moving to the Caribbean became the roots of the Arawaks.

Arawaks, the Amerindians as first settlers on Carriacou.

History of Amerindians in the Caribbean, the Arawaks.

About Taino technology and culture, the Arawak history.

Taino settlement, housing and transport by canoe.

Origins of the Arawaks

In general, the native people from the Greater Antilleans prefer to call themselves Taino.

Amerindians of the “Saladoid ” culture, originally came from the Venezuelan mainland.
They were referred to as “Arawaks“, because of the language they spoke.

  • Using Trinidad as a stepping stone they spread up the Caribbean and beyond.
    Ethnologist have noted common characteristics with the cultures of south eastern USA.
    For many years this led some to believe that they originated there, archaeological finds have confirmed that their origin is most certainly Amazonic.

These people of the Greater Antilles were not Arawaks but Taino Amerindians.
Despite their peacefull nature, they did not passively accept Spanish depradations.

Spanish in conflict with the Taino.

Amerindians fighting the Spanish invaders.

Repent and go to heaven, they told him as they lit the fire.
If there are Spaniards in heaven I would rather go to hell, he replied.
Hatuey was not the only defiant one.

There were several others, men like Guarocuya (Enrique) in Hispaniola, Uroyoan in Borinquen (Puerto Rico) and Guama in Cuba.

  • Guama confronted the strange, terrifying European weapons.
    The man-eating dogs, the guns, the mounted soldiers, the naval galleons.
    He did so with great courage and determination.

The Arawak World.

Social Organization.

The Arawaks were a very gentle culture, they preferred negotiation and commercial exchange to war.
Their society was characterized by happiness, friendliness and a highly organized hierarchical, paternal society, and a lack of guile.

Guacanagari Cacique of Hispaniola.

Each group was a small kingdom and the leader was called a cacique.

There was clear distinction between caciques and certain social strata that
considered themselves superior.
This developed more so in the Arawaks of the Caribbean.

On the Caribbean islands existed some degree of slavery.

The Arawaks employed prisoners and in some cases other individuals.
These had to perform services that were not expected of natural members of their communities.

It was not a hereditary slavery as in the old world culture.
Forcing to obey was simply the initial stage of submission of strangers to the tribe.
Newcomers had to work so as to be eventually assimilated.

Arawak men in traditional dress.

The duties of the sexes were well defined:

The men cleaned the land for planting, but the rest of the agricultural activity was done by the women.
The men worked wood and fabricated armament, hunted, fished, wove baskets an collected in the forest.

The women, wove, made hammocks, cooked and prepared the cassava.
They also attended to their husbands hair and painting their bodies according to ceremonial rules.

Clothing of the Taino – Arawaks.
Housing of the Arawak – round structures.

Family house of the Arawaks.

The Arawaks used two primary architectural styles for their homes.
The caciques were singled out for unique housing.
Their houses were rectangular and even featured a small porch.

Despite the difference in shape and the considerably larger buildings, the same materials were used for all Arawak housing.

The house of the cacique contained only his own family.
However, given the number of wives he might have, this constituted a huge family.

The general population lived in circular buildings with poles providing the primary
support and these were covered with woven straw and palm leaves.
The round houses of the common people were also large.
Each one had about 10-15 men and their whole families.

As a result any Arawaks home might house a hundred people.

In addition to the two types of houses, the typical Arawaks village contained a flat court in the Centre of the village.
The central court was used for ball games and various festivals, both religious and secular.

Houses were built around a central court.
The Arawaks had a hierarchical society, and there was only one Cacique in each village.
The Cacique was paid a tribute (tax) to oversee the village.
There were other levels of sub-caciques, who were not paid, but did hold positions of honor.
These assistants to the Cacique were liable for various services to the village and the leader himself.

Technology of the Taino – Arawaks.

Stone making was especially developed among the Arawak, but they seem not to have used it at all in building houses.
Stones were primarily used for tools and for especially religious artifacts.

They also introduced their art of weaving, basket making, carving and painted ceramics which incorporated symbols from their spiritually evolved belief-system.
Weaving fibers and making hammocks was a standard skill among all Amerindian trines.

  • The Arawaks developed a system for extracting the poisonous liquid out of the bitter cassava, using a sebucán.

Arawaks in front of traditional housing.

Dress of Arawak men and women.

The men were generally naked, but the women sometimes wore short skirts.

Men and women alike adorned their bodies with paint and shells and other decorations.

Diet of the Amerindian Arawaks.

Sebucan for extracting poisonous cassava liquid.

One of the Arawak’s primary crops was cassava.
This is a root crop from which a poisonous juice must be squeezed.
Then it is baked into a bread like slab.
They also grew corn (maize), squash, beans, peppers, sweet potatoes, yams and

  • The Arawaks used a sebucán to extraxt the poisonous liquid from the Cassava root.
    That cassava bread which they made from grated yucca was the staple of the Arawaks that lived in the forest.

The coastal inhabitants used corn Instead of cassava .

As stated earlier, a basic source of food was the bread made of cassava or corn.
The sebucán was invented to extract the poison from the cassava root.

Food sourcing by Arawak the women.

Apart from that, the Arawak diet was cantered around wild meat or fish as the primary source of protein.

  • They ate snakes, various rodents, bats, worms, birds, in general any living things they could find with the exception of humans.
Hunting and agriculture.

They were able to hunt ducks and turtles in the lakes and sea.
The coastal natives relied heavily on fishing, and tended to eat their fish either raw or
only partially cooked.

Amerindian hunting tools and weapons.

  • The natives of the interior relied more on agriculture and hunting, using less fish in their diet.

The Arawak raised their crops in conucos, a system of agriculture they developed.

Cotton was grown and woven into fishing nets.
They raised tobacco and enjoyed smoking very much.
It was not only a part of their social life, but was used in religious ceremonies too.

Transport of the Arawaks was mainly by canoe.

The Arawak had no large animals like horses, oxen or mules to ride or use for work.
Instead they did have river and sea transportation.

Wooden canoes were the main means of transportation between and around the islands.
See some examples in the museum of Antigua .

Antigua museum – Arawak Canoe.

  • These dugout canoes were cut from a single tree trunk and used with paddles.
    They could take 70-80 people in a single canoe and even used them for long travels on the sea.

The Arawaks traveled rivers and seas, using curiaras and piraguas.
They also traveled with sails made of woven leaves of the moriche palm (mauritia flexuosa).

Defense systems of the Arawak people.

Taino were a peacefull tribe.

The Arawak themselves were quite peaceful people, but they did have to defend themselves from the Caribs who were cannibals.

Therefore the Arawak / Taino had some weapons which they used in defence.
They used the bow and arrow, and had developed some poisons for their arrow tips.

  • They had cotton ropes for defensive purposes and some spears with fish hooks on the end. Since there were hardwoods on the island, they did have a war club made of macana.
The polytheist religion of the Arawaks.

Taino Zemi, religious symbols of the Arawaks.

There were three primary religious practices:

Taino art patterns from south america.

  1. Religious worship and obeisance to the Cemie themselves.
  2. Dancing in the village court during special festivals of thanksgiving or petition.
  3. Medicine men, or priests, consulting the Cemie for advice and healing.
    This was done in public ceremonies with song and dance.

One account of the religious agricultural feasts where Arawaks offered both in thanksgiving and petition, describes the following features:

Dress and objects in a Taino celebration and rituals.
  • People had special dress for the ceremonies which included paint and feathers.
    From their knees on down they would be covered in shells.
  • The shaman (medicine man or priests) presented the carved figures of the
  • The cacique sat on wooden stool, a place of honour.
  • There was a ceremonial beating of drums.
  • People induced vomiting with a swallowing stick.
    This was to purge the body of impurities, both a literal physical purging and a symbolic spiritual purging.
Rituals of the Arawaks.
  1. The ceremonial purging and other rites were a symbolic changing before Cemie.
  2. Women served bread (a communion rite), first to the zemi, then to the cacique followed by the other people.
    The sacred bread was a powerful protector.
    (The interesting similarities between this ritual and the Christian practice of Eucharist is obvious!).
  3. Finally came an oral history lesson, the singing of the village epic in honour of the cacique and his ancestors.
  4. As the poet recited he was accompanied by a maraca, a piece of hardwood which was beaten with pebbles.
The afterlife and meeting again.
About the Zemi, late Caciques and their powers.

The zemi take on strange forms like toads, turtles, snakes, alligators and
various distorted and hideous human faces.

Watch the video: American Indians: Cultures in Motion. Индейцы Америки: культуры в движении


  1. Manu

    I would like to argue with the author that everything is exclusively so? I think what can be done to expand this topic.

  2. Wodeleah

    Well, so-so......

  3. Blanford

    I join. It happens. Let's discuss this issue.

  4. Faegis

    And you so tried to do?

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