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Native American Time Periods for South Carolina

Native American lifeways differ regionally based on the environment, access to resources and cultural traditions. Therefore, in order to interpret archaeological sites and artifacts, archaeologists and anthropologists identify basic shifts in culture, social organization, and subsistence methods in Native American life. A cultural period is a length of time defined by having similar features or conditions; in South Carolina these are commonly defined as including the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian periods. These time periods often overlap and archaeologists frequently further divide these cultural periods for more a defined understanding of culture change.

Pre-Paleoindian Period (17,000-12,000 BC):  The Pre-Paleoindian Period refers to Native American occupations of the New World that date to the time before Paleoidian or Clovis. Although somewhat controversial, evidence is mounting that humans occupied the Americas earlier than previously thought.

Paleoindian Period (12,000 to 8,000 BC):  The Paleoindian Period refers to the time period when people migrated to the North American continent. People during this period were nomadic hunter-gatherers who subsisted on foods obtained from the wilds, from foraging and hunting species that are not domesticated. Hunting-and-gathering peoples tend to live in social groups that consisted of between 20 to 60 people, were relatively non-hierarchical and politically egalitarian. Early evidence of these peoples includes “Clovis” points, which are long, fluted chipped stone projectile points. In South Carolina, an example of early Paleoindian site is the Allendale Paleoindian Site (Topper site).

Archaic Period (8,000 to 3,000 BC):  The Archaic Period begins as the environments changed to resemble modern environments. This period is characterized as a mobile gathering-and-hunting life and a mostly egalitarian social organization. Important Archaic cultural developments included the use of notched and stemmed projectile points, the atlatl, containers of stone and pottery, and ground and polished stone artifacts. During this period, the first inland shell middens were constructed and long-distance trade was established. In South Carolina, an example of an Archaic Period site is the Spanish Sea Pines Mount.

Woodland Period (3,000 BC to 1670 AD):  The Woodland Period is characterized by increasing horticultural expertise, use of ceramics, and increasing sedentism and social complexity, when compared to the previous Archaic period. Pottery technology improved allowing containers to be made in a variety of shapes and sizes for cooking, storing and serving food. A Woodland Period assemblage would include textile marked, check and complicated stamped pottery and triangular points. Mound building flourished and the first coastal shell middens and rings were constructed.

Mississippian Period (1000 to 1520 AD):  The Mississippian Period is characterized by peoples who practiced maize agriculture, lived in chiefdoms, had populous villages and zones of dispersed housing, and constructed earthen mounds in some of their villages. A Woodland Period assemblage would include complicated stamped, incised & burnished pottery. An example of a Mississippian Period site is the Green's Shell Enclosure Heritage Preserve.

Exploratory Period (1520-1670 AD):  The Exploratory period begins with the arrival of Europeans. At that time, the area was the home of numerous Native American groups, some of which were related, and others who spoke mutually unintelligible languages. The first Europeans to make contact in South Carolina were the Spanish in 1526. Santa Elena became the capital of La Florida, and was part of the mission concept meant to bring the native population under their control. The French made contact around 1562 and established Charlesfort on present day Parris Island, but it was soon abandoned. A result of early exploration and settlement attempts was a severe reduction in Native American populations from the introduction of European and African diseases. The archaeology of early exploration and settlement reveal the incorporation of Spanish items into Native American material culture, and Native American sociopolitical reorganization.

Historic Period (1670 AD to present):  The Historic Period begins with colonization by the British in late 1600s. Trading posts, such as Ninety-Six were, established to trade deer skins. The English Colonial economy thrived on the deerskin trade and slave-labor plantations. Tensions between colonists and Native Americans led to the Yamasee War and between 1715 and 1717, various tribes from the southeast such as the Cherokee and Pee Dee, attacked colonial settlements in South Carolina in an effort to force the colonists to leave. The key archaeological features of this period are a severe reduction in Native American materials replaced with industrial mass produced European-American materials, English trade items, fire arms, and glass beads. Unable to resist the encroachment of white settlers demanding land, many Native American tribes were forced to migrate to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma); however, the Catawba were granted a reservation in 1763 and remain in the state to this day.  

Native American Artifact Sequence for South Carolina

Historic 1670 - Present

  • Burnished, painted, & complicated stamped pottery; glass beads; English trade items; firearms.
  • Exploratory Period 1520 - 1670 AD

  • Complicated stamped, incised and burnished pottery; Spanish trade goods.
  • Mississippian Period 1100 - 1520 AD

  • Complicated stamped, incised & burnished pottery; temple mounds; maize agriculture.
  • Woodland Period 3000 BC - 1670 AD

    Proto-Mississippian 900 - 1670 AD

  • Groups living amongst Mississippian neighbors, not practicing Mississippian lifeways; fabric impressed, shell & sand tempered pottery.
  • Late Woodland 500 - 1150 AD

  • Textile marked, check & complicated stamped pottery; maize agriculture; village life.
  • Middle Woodland 500 BC - 500 AD

  • Check stamped & textile marked pottery; triangular points; shell middens on the coast.
  • Early Woodland 3000 - 500 BC

  • Fiber tempered, punctuated & plain pottery; first coastal shell middens & rings.
  • Archaic Period 8000 - 3000 BC

    Late Archaic 4000 - 2000 BC

  • Square stemmed Savannah River points; steatite pot and objects, inland shell middens.
  • Middle Archaic 6000 - 4000 BC

  • Morrow Mountain, Guilford, & square stemmed points; atl-atl weights; increased plant use.
  • Early Archaic 8000 - 6000 BC

  • Side & corner notched points, including Hardaway, Palmer, Stanley, Kirk styles; formal scrapers & unifacial tools.
  • Paleoindian Period 12,000 - 8,000 BC

  • Fluted Clovis, Simpson, Suwannee & Dalton points.
  • Pre-Paleoindian 17,000 - 12,000 BC

  • No clear diagnostics; simple bifaces.