The Woodland Period

200 B.C. - A.D. 1750

Potter The term "Woodland" has been coined to label the late archaeological cultures developed by Native North American peoples throughout the eastern and mid-western parts of the continent. It is named after the Eastern Woodland environmental zone in which it first developed and is characterized by
  1. pottery manufacture,
  2. the construction of elaborate burial mounds,
  3. the use of the bow and arrow.
  4. cultivation of maize and other crops.

In many parts of the world, these traits indicate a major transition in subsistence and settlement involving the growth of an agricultural village way of life known in Europe, Asia, and Africa as the Neolithic. The North American Woodland is distinct, however, in that Native peoples of this period retained a significant dependance on hunting and gathering and carried out regular nomadic movements. In some regions, particularly on the northern and western fringes, this basic pattern remained in place until the time of European contact. In the Mississippi Valley, it gave way the the development of a fully sedentary way of life termed Mississippian that includes the magnificent architectural remains and art work of the TempleMound builders. On the American Plains a similar trend led to the appearance of Plains Village cultures. (You may be interested in visiting the CrowCreek Web site, a detailed exhibit on a 14th century Plains Village site in South Dakota)

In the course of its development, the Woodland complex spread westward to many areas of the Plains resulting in the adoption of a seemingly contradictory term "Plains Woodland". In Manitoba the major elements of this tradition, especially pottery and burial mounds, were introduced throughout the forest and prairie regions just before the first millennium A.D. Maize was also grown on a limited scale, although hunting of bison remained dominant on the prairies, and mixed economies based on hunting, fishing, and wild rice gathering characterized the Boreal Forest subsistence regime. The expansion of these foraging economies were further enhanced by the introduction of the bow-and-arrow. Although large agricultural settlements did not develop in the Province, Manitoba First Nations maintained important trading relationships and cultural exchanges with Plains Village and Mississippian groups to the south and east.

A particularly interesting and crucial feature of the Woodland Period is the appearance of significant aesthetic and ceremonial artifacts evident in Native rock art. In Manitoba, this activity involved the elaborate arrangement of rocks into animal shapes and geometric patterns, technically termed petroforms, and the appearance of paintings, pictographs, and engravings, petroglyphs, on rock surfaces.

Petroforms in the Shape of a Turtle and Snake
Whiteshell Provincial Park

© 1998 Manitoba Archaeological Society
Web Development: Brian Schwimmer, University of Manitoba
Text and Graphics: Brian Schwimmer, Virginia Petch, Linda Larcombe
Comments welcome