watersheds.org the world in your watershed search
homewhat's newabout ussite mapcontact us

History The First People


Ages of Occupation: Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian

The Paleo-Indians, beginning about 12,000 B.C., lived in small family groups. They are also called Bluff Dwellers because some lived in caves or under bluffs by streams. They lived alongside or near streams and wandered in the uplands. They probably moved frequently, following herds of mammoth and mastodon. They gathered greens, seeds, fruits, nuts, roots, and mushrooms. They hunted eggs, insects, small animals, and fish, as well as big game like mastodon.

Later, in the Archaic period, (beginning about 7,000 B.C.), Native Americans depended less on big game like mastodon, which had become scarce due to overhunting. Animals we recognize today like deer and bear, squirrel and raccoon, became the focus of their hunts. As acorns from nearby woods became a bigger part of their diet, they had to travel less in search of food. Village sites began to be semipermanent. People moved from streams to hills as the seasons changed, returning to the same sites each year.

Agriculture probably was practiced originally almost by accident. Seeds dropped on the trampled open ground around the campsites grew to provide food on a regular basis. As food became easier to find, people had more time to make finer tools and clothing.

During the Woodland period, (beginning about 1,000 B.C.), inhabitants of the Ozarks probably continued to rely heavily on hunting, while gathering and agriculture became more important in areas with better soils outside the region.

In the Mississippian period (beginning about AD 900) Native Americans in major river bottoms developed great cities with large ceremonial mounds and defensive earthworks. These cities, based on agriculture, developed outside the Ozarks. The Ozark bottoms could not support a large population.



Prehistoric Ozark Indian Bluffs

Photos of artifacts from Indian Bluff Dwellers in northwest Arkansas.
  Sources: Indians and Archaeology of Missouri,Carl & Eleanor Chapman, University of Missouri Press, 1964 & 1983. Missouri Landscapes: A Tour Through Time,Jon L. Hawker, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 1992.