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Archaic Period

Natural Setting | Paleoindian | Archaic | Woodland | Mississippian | Caribbean Prehistory
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Oil painting of Archaic Period habitation site at Sarah's Ridge (painting by Martin Pate).
Sarah's Ridge Archaic site (Southeast Archeological Center - National Park Service).

Southeastern Prehistory

Archaic Period

History of Investigations
Early Archaic | Middle Archaic | Late Archaic
Further Reading | National Park Units

To learn more about the dates used in this website, click on one of the two links below:

History of Investigations


The Archaic Period in Florida
(This is a part of the Florida Division of Historical Resources cultural outline)
The Archaic Period: A Time of Regionalization and Specialization
(Site concerned with the Archaic period of North Carolina)
The Forest People: The Archaic Period from 8000 BC to 1000 BC
(In-depth site concerning the Archaic people of North Carolina)

William A. Ritchie (1932) first used the term "Archaic" in American archeological literature to describe the cultural material, primarily chipped stone tools, from the Lamoka Lake Site in New York. During the Works Progress Administration (WPA) excavations of the 1930s and 1940s, southeastern sites that were recognized as producing lithic materials similar to Lamoka Lake were also classified as Archaic. Today, archeologists use the term to describe a temporal and cultural period, differentiated from the earlier Paleoindian period and more recent periods on the basis of stylistic differences in stone point types, the appearance of other artifacts, and changes in economic orientation.

Before 1960, the major goal of Archaic period research was to develop a relative chronology. Information derived from excavations at deeply stratified quarry, habitation, and cave sites in the Southeast, such as Russell Cave in Alabama, Indian Knoll in Kentucky, and the Hardaway and Doerschuk sites in North Carolina, was used to develop the following chronology for the Archaic period.


Early Archaic
11,450 to 8,900 Years Ago
(10,000 to 8,000 rcbp)

2 Early Archaic Bolen points excavated offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two Bolen points excavated offshore in the Gulf of Mexico (Florida State University Program in Underwater Archaeology).

A rock cluster excavated at the Gregg Shoals site in Georgia.
Rock cluster excavated in Georgia (Adapted from "Beneath These Waters" page 23).


Map of Important Early Archaic Sites in the Southeast United States
Archaic Projectile Points from North Carolina
(From the North Carolina Archaeology Homepage: graphic by Stephen Davis)
Dust Cave
(Site describing excavations at Dust Cave in Alabama)

The Early Archaic period was defined on the basis of chipped stone projectile point technology and styles. This time period is associated with the final glacial retreat on the North American continent and an environment similar to that found in the Southeast today.

Excavations at stratified Early Archaic sites near permanent water sources or along rivers have produced corner, basal, and some side-notched points, such as Palmer, Kirk, and LeCroy, which are found throughout the south-eastern United States. Other points, such as St. Albans, Kessell, Big Sandy, and Kanawah, have a limited southeastern geographical distribution. It is this introduction of new point types that differentiates the Early Archaic period from the preceding Late Paleoindian subperiod.

Like the Late Paleoindian subperiod, it was presumed that the Early Archaic culture consisted of small mobile bands exploiting defined territories, but the increase in the number of sites and the recovery of nonlocal cherts tend to support an increase in population resulting in larger numbers of bands that traded resources with each other. The proliferation in point types appeared to also represent the ongoing regional specialization first apparent in the Late Paleoindian subperiod.

The range of lithic tools included knives, perforators, drills, choppers, flake knives and scrapers, gouges, and hammerstones. In addition, wet sites, such as the Windover Site near present-day Titusville, Florida, which produced exceptionally well preserved organic materials, have enlarged this inventory to include: bone points, atlatl hooks, barbed points, fish hooks, and pins; shell adzes; wooden stakes and canoes; and fragments of cloth and woven bags. This new information on the Early Archaic has contributed to a view of a residentially stable hunting and gathering band society that seasonally occupied base camps along major water courses and exploited lithic and food resources within individual stream drainages.


Middle Archaic
8,900 to 5,900 Years Ago
(8000 to 5000 rcbp)

The bases of 2 Middle Archaic Putnam points recovered offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Two Putnam Point bases
(Florida State University Program in Underwater Archaeology).


Map of Important Middle and Late Archaic Sites in the Southeast United States
Chronology of Archaic Projectile Points
(Includes a general chronology of projectile points with sketches)
South Florida in the Archaic Period
(From "History of the Tekesta" Web Site)

The Middle Archaic period in the Southeast is marked by a further intensification of regionalization of prehistoric cultures. A variety of new chipped stone points (for example, Stanly, Morrow Mountain, Levy, Eva, Benton, Cypress Creek, Arrendondo, White Springs, Sykes, and Newnan) and a series of ground stone tools and implements first appear in this period. These tools are used mainly for plant food processing.

The Middle Archaic appears to involve a very generalized resource exploitation strategy, which included the hunting of a variety of animals and the gathering of wild plants, such as nuts, fruits, berries, and seeds. This period demonstrated the first occurrence of shellfish collecting within river valleys and along the seacoast. At these "base" camps are found storage pits, remains of house floors, and prepared burials, all indications of increased sedentism at certain sites. Recent radiocarbon samples in Louisiana have provided considerable evidence of a mound-building tradition in Louisiana at least by 5,900 years ago (5000 rcbp). There is also a moderate increase in the amount of trade in nonlocal chert materials supposedly due to a continued growth in prehistoric population. Trade networks that focused on specialized resources developed when people began to live in sedentary base camps.


Late Archaic
5,900 to 3,200 Years Ago
(5,000 to 3,000 rcbp)

Watson Brake Archaic mound site (charcoal sketch by Martin Pate).
Watson Brake Archaic mound site (Southeast Archeological Center - National Park Service).

Late Archaic fiber-tempered pot.
Late Archaic fiber-tempered pot (National Park Service).


Shell Rings of the Late Archaic
(Information on shell ring formation and the cultures who created them)
Mounds and Rings: National Park Service
(Overview of mound and ring building in the Golden Crescent)
Poverty Point State Historic Site
(Description of this amazing site that flourished more than 3000 years ago)

The Late Archaic period in the Southeast consisted of regional specialization using a generalized subsistence technology to efficiently exploit locally available plant and animal resources. For example, freshwater mussels from the Green River in Kentucky, provided the basis for an expanded dietary inventory that included seed crops and native and tropical cultigens, suggesting that this culture was experimenting with horticulture. Late Archaic cultures along the South Atlantic coast developed sedentary settlements based on the utilization of the saltwater oyster beds. The Late Archaic Poverty Point culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley developed large permanent towns with satellite communities. These were linked in a program of trade in exotic nonlocal lithic raw materials as well as in the production and trade of finished goods made from these materials throughout much of the eastern United States. The treatment of burials at the Green River sites some containing exotic trade materials may reflect the beginnings of a hierarchy of individuals whose sole responsibility was the establishment and maintenance of these trade networks.

At the end of the Late Archaic, fiber-tempered plain and decorated ceramics appeared along the South Atlantic coast. This ceramic technology spread westward to the coastal plain of Alabama and Mississippi, to the Poverty Point culture area, southward into Florida, and eventually most of the southeastern United States. The appearance of this new technology has traditionally been viewed as the transitional period between the Archaic hunting and gathering societies and the emergence of settled Woodland period villages and communities, where existence depended on a combination of horticulture and hunting and gathering. Finally, the Archaic saw the beginning of a southeastern mound-building tradition that would be further elaborated on in the succeeding Woodland and Mississippian periods.


Further Reading

Cover of "Early Pottery in the Southeast: Tradition and Innovation in Cooking Technology" by Kenneth E. Sassaman.
"Early Pottery in the Southeast: Tradition and Innovation in Cooking Technology" by Kenneth E. Sassaman.

Daniel, I. Randolph, Jr.
1997 Hardaway Revisited: Early Archaic Settlement in the Southeast. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Elliott, Daniel T., and Kenneth E. Sassaman
•1995 Archaic Period Archaeology of the Georgia Coastal Plain and Coastal Zone. University of Georgia Laboratory of Archaeology Series Report No. 35, Athens.

Gibson, Jon L.
•2001 The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Sassaman, Kenneth E.
•1993 Early Pottery in the Southeast: Tradition and Innovation in Cooking Technology. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Sassaman, Kenneth E., and David G. Anderson
•1996 Archaeology of the Mid-Holocene Southeast. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.


National Park Units

Evidence of Archaic Period occupations has been found in the following National Park Units (Click on links for more information about American Indian occupations in these parks):

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