• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Woodland Period


Woodland Period 500 BC - AD 1100

By the beginning of the Woodland period, climatic conditions had reached an approximation of the modern climate. The Woodland period is marked by the manufacture of ceramic vessels, construction of mounds, an unequal distribution of exotic raw materials and finished goods, and horticultural activity. In the Arkansas River Valley region, however, very little is known of Woodland period patterns of prehistoric life. However, during this period regioinally distinct patterns of cultural activity began to develope, patterns that reached their florescence in the following period. Fourche Maline and Evans phase sites have been identified, as well as sites of the Gober complex and the Plum Bayou culture. In the northern Ouachita Mountains, the Fourche Maline phase continued the adaptational pattern of the previous period with the addition of ceramics and changes in artifact type frequencies.

The Gober complex type site, Spinach patch, is located at the confluence of the Mulberry and Arkansas Rivers. One of the primary artifact types associated with this complex is the argillite spade. The Plum Bayou culture is located further downstream near Little Rock and is best illustrated by the mounds at Toltec. The Evans phase is defined at the Spiro and Harlan sites, upstream from the project area. The Evans phase is based on stylistic changes in ceramic decoration.

The Woodland period is a label used by archaeologists to designate pre-Columbian Native American occupations dating between roughly 500 BC and AD 1100 in eastern North America. This time period traditioanlly is divided into Early, Middle, and Late subperiods, which refer to intervals characterized in very general terms by the first widespread use of pottery across the region, the rise and then decline of a vast exchange network throughout eastern North America, and finally, a period of increasing agricultural intensification and population growth in many areas.

Early Woodland Period

Until quite recently, the onset of the Woodland period was assumed to have been the time of the initial appearance of pottery vessels, the beginnings of mound cermonialism, the emergence of sedentary village life with well-defined structures and settlements, and intensive cultivation of crops. It is now clear, however, that the beginnings of these developments lie deeper in the past by a thousand years or more. Mound construction has great antiquity in the Southeast, dating back to at lease 3000 BC. Intensive cultivation of native food crops such as chenopodium, sunflowers, and gourds was widespread by 1000 BC. Finally, in some regions, pottery predates the onset of Woodland cultures by over 1000 years.

Middle Woodland Period

The Middle Woodland period, dating between approximately 200 BC and AD 300, is noteworthy because of the widespread, though not numerous, construction of small conical burial mounds, as well as long-distance exchange of distinctive artifact types and materials - such as copper from the Great Lakes area, mica from the southern Appalachians, and shells from the Gulf coast - across much of eastern North America.

The apparent increase in mound construction was not accompanied by major changes in community or settlement organization. People continued to live in small communities of several circular or oval structures. A tribal form of social organization may have been present, consisting of a number of interacting, more or less equal clans, or people claiming descent from common or mythic ancestors.

The best-known Middle Woodland site in Arkansas was located at the southern end of Crowley's Ridge in Helena (Phillips County), where a group of five burial mounds was once located. Two of the mounds, dated between about 100 BC and AD100, were excavated in 1960; the others were destroyed by development. The remains of twenty-eight individuals were removed during the excavation. Many of the dead were buried in large pits covered with logs; others were placed on the surface of a mound during construction and covered with soil. Accompanying some of the dead were copper objects, shell beads, conch shells, and mica.

Late Woodland Period

The Late Woodland period, which is characterized by a lack of the non-local artifacts and materials (copper, etc.,) that had been seen in the previous 500 years, began around AD 300. Despite the apparent reduction of inter-regional exchange, the Late Woodland period was a time of important cultural changes. There is evidence for population growth and larger settlements. A major technological advance, the bow and arrow, appeared around AD 700, as reflected by the widespread appearance of small triangular and notched arrow points. Very few preserved bows have been found in Arkansas, but a probable bow made of hickory was excavated from a bluff shelter in the Ozarks and may date to the Woodland period.

Located along the lower White River, the Baytown site includes two large mounds and seven smaller ones of Late Woodland age, but little is known about that site. Most Late Woodland people in Arkansas probably lived in smaller, non-mound communities of no more than several hundred individuals. Although at present little is known about these sites, it is clear that Late Woodland communities substantially outnumber recorded Middle Woodland sites.

Around AD 1000, maize became a very important element in the diet of Native Americans in Arkansas, and larger communities developed, which mark the beginning of what is broadly called the Mississippian Period.


Did You Know?

Children and families helping to raise the garrison flag on Flag Day 2006

The garrison flag flown on the old military parade ground of Fort Smith National Historic Site bears 37 stars and is 20 x 30'. On special occasions visitors assist in raising the huge flag.