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Book Review, Louisiana Prehistory

Louisiana Prehistory, second edition
By Robert W. Neuman, Nancy W. Hawkins
Pepartment of Culture, Recreation and Tourism
Louisiana Archeological Survey and Antiquities Commission
Second Printing: May 1993

This monograph deals with Louisiana's cultural heritage beginning about 10,000 B.C. when the big game hunters first entered the area.

This pre-history is divided into three main periods -

Additional information -

The Paleo-Indian period, 10,000 B.C. to 6,000 B.C. -

The these early peoples lived in an area where the temperature was some five to ten degrees cooler and relatively drier than the area is now.

The landscape was oak and pine forests mixed with open grasslands. The common animals ranged from rabbits and deer to the currently extinct animals such as variants of the armadillo, camel, dire wolf, ground sloth, long-horned bison, saber tooth tiger, short-faced bear, and a horse.

These animals were hunted with spears that had large stone tips from two to six inches long. The stone for these tips appears to have been imported from neighboring areas, such as in Arkansas and Texas.

These people appear to have lived in small nomadic groups that remained in an area only as long as food - animals and plants - were abundant. They appear to have camped in temporary shelters made up from branches and hides. It is indeterminate whether they had dogs. They did not raise other animals nor did they grow any crops. They used no metal and did not make any pottery.

Toward the end of the Ice Age, the Louisiana climate began to warm up and became wetter. Which in turn probably hastened the extinction of many of the large Ice Age animals. The Paleo-Indians of this time began to develop more varieties of stone tools to work on plants, hides and wood. Another characteristic of the tools of this time frame was that they were generally smaller than previously. There are some suggestions that the human population increased throughout this time period and they camped longer in a give area.

A site where both early and late Paleo-Indian artifacts have been discovered is at the John Pierce Site in Caddo Parish in Northwest Louisiana.

The Meso- (or Archaic) Indian period, 6,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C. -

This period was characterized by a gradual transition from the Paleo-Indian culture to a more localized lifestyle where they stayed longer in a given campsite and exploited a much smaller geographical area. The travel span decreased from where a Paleo-Indian's travel and hunting area might range from Texas to Mississippi, the Meso-Indian's area would more likely be within a few hundred miles.

Foods included clams, fish, deer, and plants such as acorns, pecans, walnuts, with occasional roots, nuts, fruits, reptiles and birds.

Dogs may possibly have been kept for pets or hunting by this time frame.

Several hunting techniques were developed and became widely accepted during this time frame - fishhooks, traps, nets, and especially the atlatl which significantly improved their hunting abilities.

The technique of stone chipping - as opposed to flaking - was developed during this time.

A site where that is characteristic of the Meso-Indian culture is the Banana-Bayou Site in Iberia Parish, in the Mississippi delta area. This site has an earthen mound, some 80 feet in diameter and 3 feet tall. Charcoal dating gives a date of 2490 +/- 260 years B.C. This site contained a wide collection of nut shells, fish, deer and turtle bones, as well as representative stone points. This site is believed to be one of the earliest mounds in North America.

The Neo-Indian period, 2,000 B.C. to 1,500 A.D. -

The Neo-Indian period was characterized by an increasing population and more groups becoming sedentary. Pottery and stone cooking vessels were added to their toolkits.

Several distinct cultures were extant during this time frame -

Poverty Point Culture, 2,000 B.C. to 600 B.C.

The people of this culture ranged from Louisiana to Mississippi and Arkansas, living near major rivers and lakes or coastal marshes that had a good variety of animal and plant foods. Near Poverty Point per se, in the Northeast corner of Louisiana, they built the largest earthworks of the period.

The culture appears to have become more culturally, ceremonially and socially organized - some people living in large regional centers throughout the year while others lived in small dispersed groups.

The people in Poverty Point traded with other Indians as far away as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Florida.

The Poverty Point earthworks consist of six semicircles, one inside the other. The ridges are cut by four aisles that radiate out from the inner circle. The outer circle measures nearly three-quarters of a mile across.

It is estimated that some 30 million 50-pound loads of soil were moved - by hand and back labor - to make these mounds.

Tool innovations that appeared during the Poverty Point culture included stone weights for fishing nets and bolas. Clay cooking balls were added to the food preparation. There was an increase in the use of stone and pottery cooking vessels.

This culture also began to make a wide variety of ornamental objects, such as clay figurines, pendants and beads.

There is speculation that some of the traits displayed by the Poverty point Culture may have originated from people living in Mexico and Central America, such as the Olmecs.

There is no evidence of conflict or warfare to explain the disappearance of this culture around 600 B.C..

More information about Poverty Point is available at -

Tchefuncte Culture, from 600 B.C. to A.D. 200.

The Tchefuncte Culture people typically lived in coastal areas and lowlands near slow-moving streams. A well studied site is called The Tchefuncte Site, located on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in extreme Eastern Louisiana.

Foodstuffs included clams - but surprisingly, not crabs or crawfish which were supposedly available and abundant - deer, raccoons, alligators, fish and some migratory birds.

The Tchefuncte people were the first in Louisiana to make large amounts of pottery. But it appears that the role of temper to strengthen pottery and keep it from cracking or shrinking unevenly was not understood.

The ongoing development of pottery led to improvements in food management - storage and cooking techniques.

The Marksville Culture, 200 B.C ...

The Marksville Culture, in Central/Eastern Louisiana, showed several cultural advances over the previous cultures in that they had more elaborate ceremonial burials, ornaments and potteries.

It appears that they had significant cultural contacts with the Hopewell Culture that existed in the Ohio and Illinois areas at the same time.

Burials were elaborate - large mounds, upwards of 40 feet in diameter and 3 feet high, were used for burying several people, apparently collected over the space of several years.

The Troyville-Coles Creek Culture - A.D. 400 ... A.D. 1100

This culture differed from the previous cultures in that the ceremonial mounds were larger, more numerous and often shaped differently. The function of the mounds changed from simple burials to support civic or religious buildings. The shapes changed to pyramidal with flat tops, sometimes stepped ramps on the sides. The heights ranged up to 20 feet.

The bow and arrow became a part of the hunting technology during this time.

Cultivated plants included squash, gourds, sunflowers, and lamb's quarters.

Temper began to be consistently used in the pottery during this time.

An excavated site from the Troyville-Coles Creek Culture is located at the Greenhouse Site, in Avoyelles Parish, in in Central/Eastern Louisiana.

The Caddo Culture, A.D. 800 ... A.D. 1500

The Caddo Culture grew out of the Troyville-Coles Creek custom and was characterized by fine pottery and wide use of imported materials and elaborate burials of upper class people.

Beans were added to the repertoire of cultivated plants.

A technology of black of dark mahogany color pottery was developed during this time.

When the Europeans contacted the Caddo Culture in the 1500's, it had divided into several distinct subcultures -

An example of the Caddo Culture is the excavation at Gahagan Site, located in Red River Parish, in Northwestern Louisiana.

The Plaquemine Culture, A.D 1000 ...

The Plaquemine Culture occupied the rest of Louisiana not taken by the Caddo Culture during this time frame. They kept more to the traditions and practices of the Troyville-Cole Creek culture in their mounds, ceremonial structures and burial practices.

A unique pottery innovation from this culture is the "killed" pottery. This is a vessel that has a hole cut in the base of the vessel when it was being made, usually before it was fired.

The Plaquemine and Caddo Indian cultures were contemporary with the Mississippian or Cahokia culture in the St. Louis area. There is evidence of scattered contacts and some cultural intermixing which led to some groups in Louisiana believed to have had descended from the Mississippians - namely the Tunican, Chitimachan and Muskogean language speakers. Groups believed to have descended from the Plaquemine Culture are the Taerisa and Natches speakers.

An example of the Plaquemine Culture is the excavation at Medora Site, in West Baton Rouge Parish, in South/Eastern Louisiana.

World Wide Web Links about Poverty Point

The following link gives you more information about this area -

Reviewed by E. Stiltner
Copyright (©) 2000

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