I. Prehistoric Times > I. After the Ice Age: Holocene Hunter-Gatherers (12,000 Years Ago to Modern Times) > 5. Paleo-Indian and Archaic North Americans
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
5. Paleo-Indian and Archaic North Americans
Holocene times ushered in major climatic change in the Americas. As the ice sheets of the north retreated, more temperate vegetational zones spread north. Ice Age big game had vanished, except for the bison, which flourished on the short grass of the Great Plains. Here Paleo-Indian, and later, more sophisticated Archaic big-game hunting cultures diversified over a period of more than 10,000 years, right into modern times. First the bow and arrow, which arrived in the first millennium B.C.E., and then the horse, introduced by Spanish conquistadors in 1543 C.E., enriched Plains hunting cultures. They had already achieved a high degree of elaboration as a result of chronic warfare and competition when European settlers reached the Plains.  1
The West Coast and interior of North America became progressively drier, resulting in great environmental diversity. In the desert interior, Paleo-Indian and Archaic cultures developed a remarkable expertise with wild plant foods. These were highly mobile cultures, except in favored areas near lakes and marshes, where people preyed on waterfowl, freshwater fish, and plant foods for much of the year.  2
As Ice Age sea levels rose and flooded estuaries and bays, the Pacific coast of North America supported a great, and predictable, bounty of fish and sea mammals. These predictable food supplies supported sedentary hunter-gatherer cultures in southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, in the San Francisco Bay area and interior, and along the southern California coast.  3
After about 4000 B.C.E., when sea levels stabilized, many of these societies enjoyed periods of remarkable social and political sophistication. In the Santa Barbara Channel region, for example, some Chumash people lived in settlements of more than 1,000 people headed by a hereditary chief. The famous Ozette whale-hunting settlement on Washington's Olympic Peninsula chronicles the history of an ancestral Makah Indian community from at least 1000 C.E. to the 18th century.  4
The first human settlement of the shores of the Arctic Ocean and of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago dates to about 2000 B.C.E. The Pre-Dorset and Dorset people were fisherfolk and caribou hunters, with the simplest of material culture. In the western Arctic, elaborate hunter-gatherer societies that can be attributed to ancestral Eskimo developed after 1000 B.C.E. in the Bering Strait area. They became specialized sea mammal hunters, trading walrus ivory, iron, and other commodities between Asia and Alaska and farther south. The Thule people from the west colonized the Canadian Arctic Archipelago as far east as Greenland in about 1000 C.E., just as Norse voyagers were pressing west to Labrador.  5
The eastern woodlands of North America supported a great diversity of hunter-gatherer groups after 8000 B.C.E., many of them concentrated in large river valleys where plant foods and fish were abundant. Some of these societies, especially in the Midwest and Southeast, developed highly specialized cultures that exploited bountiful nut harvests and river fish. By 4000 B.C.E., many of them lived in permanent base camps and competed for floodplain land. This competition was one of the factors that led to food production in North America.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.