ARCHAIC
Click on the icons on the map for detailed information about
archaeological sites that relate to the Archaic period.
ca. 8,000 BC to 500 BC

With a warming of the climate over time, people gradually made a transition from semi-nomadic to a more sedentary life. Instead of frequently migrating, people settled for longer periods of time based on seasonal and geographic variation in foods and other resources (Hudson, 1976). The areas that they would have roamed as part of their seasonal rounds would have become smaller as they became more familiar with local food sources and as the warming climate allowed different species, such as white-tailed deer, to thrive. Large mammals disappeared, and hunting of smaller species, including deer, became the focus.

This warmer than normal period is called the Hypsithermal Period and lasted from about 6000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. This warming trend caused a rise in ocean levels which changed the coastline and also led to a change in the river systems. The braided streams stabilized into the shallower twisting meander belts that we see today and this created oxbow lakes and backswamp areas that were rich in food. Freshwater mussels were probably harvested prior to this, but the combination of these newly-created floodplain resources allowed Archaic people to remain in one place for longer durations. Early evidence of fishing also occurs in some areas. More shallow rivers may have made it easier to harvest the shellfish as well as exposed gravel beds that were a stone source for tool-making. This newly-available gravel and a subsistence strategy that focused on local resources probably led to the drastic reduction in exotic stone (such as obsidian) in everyday tool making.

Tool-making technologies expanded to adapt to local resources such as plant foods and the monolithic point types such as Clovis and Dalton gave way to types that begin to show regional variation. Early Archaic spear points included side-notched and corner-notched types. Some archaeologists have noted a break in the continuity of the tool making traditions in the area with an abrupt change in shape from side-notched to corner notched forms (Morse 1969) and a change in material from the Early Archaic to the Middle Archaic (McGahey 1975).

Early evidence of regional trade and exchange networks began to appear during the Middle Archaic Period (6000-2000BC) as groups likely interacted with one another in the quest for finding new mates from other groups (Anderson 1996) or in obtaining resources that were more difficult to obtain due to smaller territories. One of the earliest and most extensive exchange systems is found along the Tennessee River and includes parts of Northeast Mississippi. Caches of very large stone blades made from Fort Payne chert (a stone that occurs in what is now northwest Alabama) that were traded have been found in burials throughout this region (Johnson and Brookes 1989). This trade may have served as a way to keep trade channels open for the exchange of food during times of scarcity (Bense 1987).

People used new technologies to make tools as well as decorative items like carvings. Ground stone items like beads also appear during this time period and a variety of effigy beads, (stone carvings in animal shapes), have been found throughout Mississippi and, along with Benton blades, may be the first evidence of craft specialization in Mississippi (Crawford 2003).

Ceremonialism also grows in popularity during this time period as well as early evidence of regional trade and exchange between groups (Anderson 1996). Larger groups of people began building ceremonial and some burial mounds in areas that they inhabited for longer periods of time during the later Archaic period.

Midden mounds, or mounds of accumulated debris of human occupation, built up along some streams and rivers in the Middle Archaic. These are usually a mix of mussel shell, dirt, and other organic material and due to the high calcium content of the shell, they tend to preserve human burials which provides information on social organization (Classen 1991). Animal bone also gives some insight into people’s diet (Bense 1987).

Many of the trends that we see in the Middle Archaic continue into the Late Archaic (2000-500 B.C.). The exploitation of shellfish continues and large rings of shell midden accumulate on the banks of rivers and streams in western Mississippi. There are many archaeological sites from this period which indicates an increasingly successful and growing population. Earthen mounds, rings, and other shapes are constructed during this period which may be an indication that the growing populations were laying claim to their area and that subsistence strategies allowed people to gather in one place long enough to build them.

A variation of the Archaic life that was prevalent in Mississippi is known as the Poverty Point Culture. Named for an archaeological site in north Louisiana, this culture has all the other features of Late Archaic sites with the addition of clay cooking balls, earthen constructions, ground stone beads, and exotic imported stone. These sites occur in the Mississippi Delta across northern Lousiana and Mississippi and along the coast to Florida. Among the largest and earliest of these sites are the Jaketown site in Humphreys County, the Teoc Creek site in Carroll County, and the Claiborne Site in Hancock County.

Plant domestication first occurs in the Late Archaic with starchy seeds being grown to supplement the hunting and gathering of wild plants and game. Pottery was first introduced on the Georgia coast as early as 3000 B.C., but first shows up in Mississippi around 1000 B.C. Some archaeologists distinguish this period from the Late Archaic and call it the Gulf Formational Period. It has most of the same characteristics of the Late Archaic with the addition of pottery. Vessels tempered with plant fibers are the first to be used, followed closely by sand tempered pottery. The introduction of pottery and crops led to more reliable food production and storage and begins a period called the Woodland (500 BC-1000 AD).