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.

Completed reports include a prototype methodology summary with recommendations for further research, and a pilot study of the Nanticoke River watershed using this prototype methodology. Both were completed in December 2013.

Further research is underway on the lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and on the Nanjemoy peninsula of southern Maryland. Research reports will be available here when they are final.

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