Earliest Americans through the Mississippian Period
The Earliest Americans: Pre-10,000 B.C.
The first people to enter North America traveled across a landmass of continental proportions that connected Alaska to Siberia. During the last ice age, sea level fell as expanding glaciers drew water from the oceans. The sea floor of the shallow Bering Strait was exposed, thus forming a land connection.
The Paleoindian Period: 10,000 - 8,000 B.C.
These first Americans were hunters and gatherers. Moving from place to place following herds of big game, they hunted with spears and gathered wild plants to supplement their diet. Over thousands of years, these people spread throughout North and South America, including the area that became North Carolina.
The Archaic Period: 8,000 - 1,000 B.C.
As many big game species became extinct, the Indians began to use various local resources. They hunted smaller game, fished, and gathered fruits, nuts, berries, roots, and shellfish. These groups moved often to take advantage of seasonal resources. New tools, such as the spear-thrower (atlatl) and ground-stone implements, appeared.
The Woodland Period: 1,000 B.C. - A.D. 1100
Gradually, Indians stopped moving in search of wild foods and began settling in permanent villages located near rivers. The villagers still gathered some wild foods, but they also planted gardens of squash, gourds, corn, beans, and tobacco. The women made pottery out of river clays, and the men hunted with bows and arrows.
The Mississippian Period: A.D. 1100 - 1550
Around A.D.1100, a new cultural tradition emerged in the Carolina Piedmont. These Indians practiced extensive agriculture and traded with other tribes for shells and copper. This society built ceremonial centers, some surrounded by stockades. Town Creek was one such center, which today has been reconstructed.
About the 11th century, a new cultural tradition sprung up in the Pee Dee River Valley. Called the "Pee Dee" by archaeologists, the new culture was part of a far-reaching tradition known as "South Appalachian Mississippian." In Georgia, South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and portions of the southern and western North Carolina Piedmont, this new culture gave rise to complex societies that built earthen mounds for their spiritual and political leaders, engaged in widespread trade, supported craft specialists, and celebrated a new kind of religion. They remained in the Town Creek area until the 1400s.
Download a Brief Cultural Time Line for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. (PDF Format)