Indigenous Cultural Landscapes


Chicone Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke River, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland


Indigenous cultural landscapes are evocative of the natural and cultural resources supporting American Indian lifeways and settlement patterns in the early 17th century. Important to descendant communities today, and to conservation strategies in the Chesapeake, this approach to understanding large landscapes is in ongoing research.

These landscapes comprise the cultural and natural resources that would have supported the historic lifestyles and settlement patterns of an Indian group in its totality. The concept attempts to demonstrate that American Indian places were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that the American Indian view of one's homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically used in our language today such as "hunting grounds", "villages", or "sacred sites".

This document provides an introduction to the concept, major milestones in conceptual development, and suggested criteria of historical and landscape features present in indigenous cultural landscapes. You may also view the rack card developed for distribution at conferences.

Read the paper that was included in the comprehensive management plan for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and which includes updates. You can also view a video recorded in 2013 in which the concept is discussed.

You can also read the paper Examples of ICLs in Virginia originally authored in 2011. The paper describes examples of indigenous cultural landscapes along proposed segments of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in Virginia, and was updated in 2015. The example descriptions include lists of which criteria apply and how the sites can be interpreted as indigenous cultural landscapes.

In December 2013, researchers from the University of Maryland completed a prototype methodology summary with recommendations for further research, and a pilot study of the Nanticoke River watershed using this prototype methodology.

Building on that pilot study and its criteria and methodology for documenting ICLs, researchers from St. Mary's College of Maryland completed a study of the Nanjemoy and Mattawoman Creek watersheds in November 2015.

Additional projects in progress are an ICL priorities report for the tidal Chesapeake Bay watershed, and ICL research on the tidal Rappahannock River. Research reports will be available here when they are final.

Did You Know?