Touring Ohio

PRE CLOVIS Period (ca 20,000-11,500 BP)

Little evidence exists to strongly support any type of culture that may have existed before the last ice age, it is difficult to speculate on what they may have been like. We do know there were people living in the Ohio Country during this time. Most likely they were nomadic and following herds like bison and mastodon during their seasonal migrations.

In various parts of Ohio glacial kames have been discovered. These are large gravel deposits left behind by the melting glaciers. Since their formation they have been covered over with organic matter that has since become top soil. During the Pre Clovis Period, these gravel deposits would have still been exposed. Some people living during this time period placed their dead on top of these gravel deposits. A few grave sites of this type have been accidently discovered during construction digs. When one of these sites are discovered, archeologists come in to document the site and to recover any artifacts that may be with the remains. Some of these sites have been dated to 10,000 - 3,000 BP. Because the deceased were on top of the kame and the deceased sometimes has assorted marine shells, copper items, and other goods, some made from copper, the site can be identified as a burial site. These particular people today are referred to as being the Glacial Kame Culture.

Where did these people come from originally? No one knows for certain today. The most common theory is they moved from eastern Asian across a land bridge that probably existed during the last ice age that connected Alaska and Russia. Other theories suggest that sailing was more common further back in time that was previously thought. This theory suggests that Asian cultures may have sailed across the Pacific much earlier than previously thought. If so, they could have landed all along the west coasts of North, Central and South America. Another theory suggests that mid eastern cultures surrounding the Mediterranean may have mastered oceanic navigational skills and technologies and may have ventured along the eastern coasts of North, Central, and South American as well. Then there is the theory that northern Europeans may have actually been in North America long before any of these cultures crossed the oceans.

During the ice ages the distance between Europe, Greenland and North America's east coast were considerable shortened due to the massive ice sheets that extended out into the Atlantic Ocean. Quite simply this meant that even with rudimentary boats, these north men could just sail along the shorelines for most of their journey and eventually they would reach what is today the mid-Atlantic states. Is this what happened? We perhaps will never know. It is quite possible all of these theories are true.

 

PALEOINDIAN PERIOD (ca 14,000 - 10,000 BP)

The Paleoindian Period dates back to a time between 14,000 and 10,00 years ago. It was at this time the last ice age was in the process of retreating back into Canada. Temperatures were warming.

During this time the culture consisted of small families or clans that worked together in fostering the extended family units.

Some members of the clan nurtured and protected the children. Others went out on extended hunts for whatever game they could find and kill. These people were using stone tools and razor sharp flint arrowheads, spears and knives. They had refined the tool making process using fluted flint that resulted in highly effective hunting tools even against the large animals that roamed the fields and woodlands. Although mastodon and mammoth animals were present here, they were not usually part of these groups daily diet. More likely they would gather up a hunting party in the late fall to try and bring down one of these beasts. At that time of year, the large carcass could be butchered and stored in one of the many frozen ponds. The remains could then provide plenty of food for the clan throughout the winter months without risking dangerous scavengers from taking their cache.

ARCHAIC PERIOD (ca 10,000 - 2,500 BP)

This period marked the end of the last ice age. The climate had changed dramatically and was very close to what we experience today. Ohio became a 4 season climate whereas during the ice age, it was just a 3 season climate (winter / spring./ fall).

During this time period the people in and around Ohio began to change slightly. They still maintained their clans, but the clans became more extended. Different clans from different areas would meet and share ideas. They also intermarried between clans. Their diets were beginning to change as well. Instead of just meats they were adding fish, nuts and berries, things that could be picked, dried and stored.

What really identifies the Archaic Period is the fact they did not farm, did not make ceramics, and they did not live in permanent sites. Although they weren't farmers by any sense of the word, towards the end of this period they were beginning to plant sunflowers and squash during the the summer months. Also during the end of this period they were beginning to trade. Flint first discovered 1000s of years ago before, was found to be a highly prized commodity that could be traded for materials found elsewhere across the continent.

Towards the end of this period, we begin to see a new group of people moving into the Ohio Valley and eventually throughout much of Ohio. These were a different group with different ways, with different art forms and different pottery. The Natural Americans that had been living here since before the ice came perhaps couldn't understand their language or the reason for putting so much time and effort into their funeral practices. But in time this new group would be appreciated and the New Americans would learn their language. Their unique burial mounds would be seen as a positive. They also brought with them a new crop that could be planted, grown, harvested and stored for much later use. In return for the seeds of corn, the Natural Americans traded flint. Eventually, the new Mound Builders would discover their own sources for flint and they began trading with other Natural Americans.

EARLY WOODLAND PERIOD (ca 2,800 - 1,500 BP)

The Woodland Period was really an extension of the Late Archaic Period. Growing food became more organized. The Natural Americans that survived the last ice age, were seeing more and more Mound Builders coming into their hunting grounds and their villages seemed to be everywhere. Some probably decided to move east to the other side of the mountains and away from the ever growing number of Mound Builders occupying Ohio.

With this influx of Mound Builders, a highly socialized culture was seen throughout Ohio. Instead of the nomadic Natural Americans, they were establishing large permanent villages where they could remain year-round. They were farming growing corn, squash, and gourds. They were making pottery, and had organized ceremonial rituals which placed a higher honor on age and wisdom.
At the end of the ice age, new rivers had formed across Ohio and the Mound Builders followed those rivers that branched off of the Mississippi River. It is thought these people were extensions of the Mayan Culture of Central America who were now establishing new villages in Ohio.

How these people, the Mound Builders, interacted with the Natural Americans is not known. It is clear that the Mound Builders quickly outnumbered them. The Mound Builders' villages completely linked almost all of Ohio with a network of roads making it easy for outlying villages to travel from one center to another. The Mound Builders had also begun to create a new form of mounded earth that took on the shape of animals. The most famous of this style earthwork is the Serpent Mound in southeast Ohio, but this is only one example. Throughout the state numerous effigy mounds were being built.

 

MIDDLE WOODLAND PERIOD (ca 2,100 - 1,500 BP)

During this period of time we see almost no evidence of the Natural Americans still living in the area. The Mound Builders had completely encompassed almost all of Ohio with their mound building. At this time they had expanded their mound building to include a new form of earthwork: the enclosures. These large-scale geometric earthworks were located along the major river valleys in southern, central and eastern Ohio.

The enclosures typically were built around or near earlier conical burial mounds. They were more often than not a combination of a circular earthwork next to a rectangular earthwork. The purpose of this configuration has been lost to the ages, but it became the most recognized structure of the Mound Builders.

Besides these stylized geometric shapes, the Mound Builders of this period also began trading their flint reserves with Natural Americans living in other parts of the continent. Copper was highly prized by the Mound Builders as was mica and pipestone.

 

LATE WOODLAND PERIOD (ca 1,500 - 1,100 BP)

Great changes were afoot across Ohio. The Mound Builders had stopped building their ceremonial earthworks. They had stopped building their effigy mounds. They were no longer expanding but were instead contracting and concentrating into 4 or 5 major centers that were more independent of each other. Smaller but more numerous communities began to be constructed. With the development of the bow and arrow, the large herds began to decrease in size. The larger communities could no longer produce enough food to feed everyone so these communities began to break up and spread out. This is when tribal communities began developing. In time these multiple communities developed their own customs, their own languages, their own heritage.

In time the stories of who they were and where they came from were shortened to include only the more relevant details of their lives. Their extreme past became more idealized and with each generation, these stories became more embellished.

 

LATE PREHISTORIC PERIOD (ca 1,100 - 400 BP)

As farming became a bigger food source for the large population centers being developed in Ohio, fertile land was becoming a major concern. Early efforts at farming were often done in the fertile river valleys. In time, these farmlands lost their fertility from over-planting. Periodic flooding also caused problems and no doubt at times completely destroyed an entire summer's crop. These conditions forced the groups to move to higher grounds that avoided the flooding, but also protected the crops.

During this period the Fort Ancient Culture became the major culture centers in the state. At about the same time, Native American groups began moving into eastern and northeast Ohio. Whether or not the Native Americans came in contact with the Mound Builders has not been proven yet, but it most likely did happen. And, if future events were any indication, the two groups most likely did not get along.

By the end of the Late Prehistoric Period, the Mound Builders had mostly if not completely disappeared from Ohio. Native Americans had been making inroads into much of the area. These were typically small villages that dotted areas throughout Ohio. In some places these villages became large gathering places and the Native American population exploded. Wildlife was plentiful, the Native Americans had mastered the techniques necessary to grow corn and other agricultural crops. This was a time of relative peace between the groups living here. This idyllic time would not last and while Ohio would see smaller groups of Native Americans come and go, the days of large villages and peace would disappear and not return until the early 1800s.

 

HISTORIC PERIOD (ca 400 - present)

In the late 1400s Europeans had arrived on the eastern shores of North America. A hundred years later, the French had begun exploring the interior portions of the continent. Native Americans first seen on the east coast, were now inhabiting the central regions. The French began an open trading network with these Native Americans giving them guns, metal knives, and cooking utensils in exchange for furs, in particular beaver skins. Unfortunately, these early explorers were responsible for inflicting highly contagious diseases among the Native Americans they came in contact with in Ohio. This early contact eventually decimated Ohio's Native American populations. They survived but their numbers were greatly decreased. Eventually the survivors moved away leaving Ohio mostly deserted for almost a century.

As more Europeans arrived in North America, Native Americans began moving deeper into the continent. The Iroquois in particular were particularly forceful in taking control of northern Ohio and around Lake Erie and they easily destroyed those few remaining groups of Native America's inhabiting northern Ohio particularly around Lake Erie.

Although the Iroquois eventually pulled back from Ohio, the area was quickly repopulated with other groups such as the Wyandotte, Shawnee, Delaware, Miami and Ottawa that came in from neighboring regions once the Iroquois left. When a new wave of traders came to Ohio they asked about the unusual mounds and earthworks they had scene as they moved across the land. Those new Native Americans living here could not answer their questions as to who built them or for what reason they were built. When settlers began laying claims on the Ohio Territory, it was these native groups that they often encountered in bloody conflicts. Eventually, these groups would be forced out of Ohio and moved further west. By the time the state of Ohio was only 3 decades old, all of the Native Americans were gone from Ohio.

After this time Ohio would be at peace except for a brief period during the Civil War. The land would become one of the most productive agricultural centers in North America. Ohio would lead the new nation first in building canal-ways and new roads, but then it would explode with industry with the invention of the railroad. Ohio would be the first in aviation, would take the lead in providing presidents, for a time it would be the country's leader in automobile manufacturing, oil production, coal mining and iron production.

What the early Natural Americans discovered here so many 1000s of years ago is still being appreciated today. Although our culture is only a few hundred years old and nothing in comparison to the length of time the Natural Americans roamed our hills and streams, and nothing in comparison to the Mound Builders that lived peacefully here for 1000s of years, Ohio supports millions of people that would have been impossible for any of these previous cultures to even imagine.