The Woodland Tradition Research Paper


The Woodland Tradition is a very important period in the historical development of human society. The Woodland Tradition is traditionally referred to the 700 BCE and its remnants lasted into modern era. This was a period when very important socie-economic and cultural changes have occurred in human society that makes it very important to trace what these changes were, their causes and consequences for the future development because the trends that have been innovative for the Wooden Tradition turned to be basic for the development of the further society and socio-economic relations typical for traditional society based on farming and gardening the first traces of which may be found in the Woodland Tradition.

The problem of socio-economic changes of Woodland Tradition

At first glance Woodland Tradition did not differ significantly from the previous historical periods in the development of human society, nonetheless this period is characterised by significant shifts in the lifestyle and socio-economic activities of people of that epoch. On the other hand, these changes are, in stark contrast, severely criticized and even denied. This is why nowadays specialists face a dilemma what position is closer to the reality.

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In order to better understand the problem of socio-economic changes, it is necessary to analyse different views on this problem. It is not a secret that many specialists believe that Woodland Tradition is a natural continuation of the previous historical epochs in the development of human society which main socio-economic activities were basically focused on hunting, gathering, and fishing and these were the main sources for sustaining the development of human communities of that epoch. In such a situation the remarks concerning the engendering of farming, or agriculture seems to be quite strange since many specialists argue, for instance, that “corn agriculture never became important in Northern Wisconsin, noting that poor soils and a harsh climate make the Highland Lake District marginal for farming even nowadays” (Stevenson et al. 1999:190).

On the other hand, there are absolutely different views on this problem, according to which the first attempts to start agriculture in Wisconsin in Woodland Tradition have been made and had be successful enough and it was this epoch when Woodland people not only “buried their dead in man-made mounds, made pottery” but also “began to grow plants in small gardens” (Ritzenthaler and Ritzenthaler, 1983:88) that was an obvious sign of the first attempts of the development of agriculture in its primitive form. Moreover, archaeologists remark that these activities had started to begin at the end of the Archaic period but “Woodland people really developed these activities much further” (Ritzenthaler and Ritzenthaler, 1983:89).

Furthermore, there may be found other evidences, which are in favour of the latter position and directly or indirectly supports the idea that agriculture had started to play increasingly more important role for people of Woodland Tradition. For instance, some specialists indicate that settlements of Woodland people were larger in size than settlements of people of earlier epochs. It was the natural result of the development of agriculture which lead to the situation when Woodland people “were moving around less and were starting to develop stronger territories” (Ritzenthaler and Ritzenthaler, 1983:116).

Thus, it is obvious that the main problem scientists have to solve is the degree to which the socio-economic changes were really typical for Woodland Tradidion and the extent, to which they affected the life of Woodland people and further epochs.

Factual evidences proving the socio-economic changes

Obviously, on analysing the problem of socio-economic changes in Woodland Tradition, the theoretical assumptions that have been basically presented above are insufficient and it is necessary to find some practical evidences supporting the righteousness of one of the two positions mentioned above, i.e. whether Woodland people really had started quite innovative system of agriculture and corresponding socio-economic changes, partially refusing from traditional gathering, hunting and fishing, or the latter activities remained absolutely dominant, defined socio-economic life of Woodland people, and produced no effect on their everyday life.

In this respect, probably the most persuasive evidences of righteousness of any of the positions mentioned above may be found in archaeological researches and findings due to remnants revealing the essence of Woodland Tradition and its socio-economic basis. Nowadays these evidences may be found in museums.

In fact one of the indicators of the significant socio-economic changes that took place in the human society of Woodland Tradition is the fact that, according to archaeologists, the population of that epoch in Wisconsin had started to grow dramatically and was higher than in the previous epochs. It may be treated as an indirect indication that people could have some alternative sources for supplying their demands otherwise but gathering, hunting, and fishing since “groups of people didn’t just leave and new people with new ways move into Wisconsin” (Kohn and Montell 1997:284).

On analysing the artefacts related to Woodland Tradition, it is possible to say that there are a lot of indicators supporting the idea that Woodland people continued to prefer traditional hunting, gathering and fishing to relatively innovative gardening and farming. In this respect, it worth to note that the hunting equipment of Woodland people had been quite advanced and efficient. For instance, along with traditional tools that archaeologists found, such as spear points, knives, modified flakes, and hammerstones, Woodland people also widely used the bow and arrow, which were particularly efficient in hunting. Moreover, they used arrow and bow in games, such as ring and arrow game that indicates at the wide use of these tools not only in hunting but also in games that were naturally a kind of training for hunting.

Furthermore, the findings of archaeologists show that arrowheads used by Woodland people were smaller than those used for spears by previous groups that becomes particularly obvious when the exhibits of both spearheads and arrowheads are compared. Moreover, there were also found special tools which indicate at the existence of the bow and arrow in Woodland Tradition, notably there were found abraders which were sometimes used for straightening arrow shafts.

Also, a great number of evidences indicating at the importance of hunting for Woodland people may be found in carvings and paintings on rock surfaces and one of the central theme of these carvings and paintings was the process of hunting as well as a number of images of different animals were also in the focus of attention of Woodland ‘artists’.

At the same time it should be pointed out that fishing was also quite popular and fishing tools were also quite advanced. For instance, the findings show that Woodland people used spears and nets for fishing that is also an indicator of the progress of this activity for people of that epoch. The samples of such nets and spears may be also easily found among the exhibits of the museum. Consequently, it is possible to say that fishing still played a very important role for Woodland Tradition.

However, there are also evidences revealing the development of gardening which naturally was far from a well-developed agriculture and farming but still was a separate and important branch of socio-economic life of Woodland people. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the gourds and squashes found by archaeologists, which were traditionally used as containers and probably were not simply collected but encouraged to grow.

Furthermore, the plant remains indicate at the fact that “first squash and then sunflowers were grown in small gardens. By the end of this period [Woodland Tradition] some corn was being grown” (Ritzenthaler and Ritzenthaler, 1983:188). For instance, among exhibits of the museum may be found remains of beans and corn that were planted at that epoch. Also there are other indicators proving the fact of the development of gardening and farming in Woodland Tradition. Notably, as the exhibits show, Woodland people used a sieve bag for hulling corn, as well as they used mortars and pestles, which were basically used to crack corn for meal and hominy.

Moreover, some plants were used not only as food but some of them, which in all probability were also cultivated, were used for other purposes. For instance, some pipes that were found by archaeologists reveal the fact that Woodland people used them for smoking tobacco.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Woodland people, in all probability, kept their traditional lifestyle paying a lot of attention to such activities as hunting or fishing, which were significantly improved. At the same time, it is hardly possible to deny that agriculture had started to develop in Woodland Tradition and there are a lot of evidences, which nowadays are exhibited in museums, indicating at the facts of the spread of gardening and farming at this epoch that was one of the reasons of the growth of population and enlargement of settlements.


Kohn, Rita, and W. Lynwood Montell, eds. Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Indians. Bloomington, Ind., 1997.
Ritzenthaler, Robert E., and Pat Ritzenthaler. The Woodland Indians of the Western Great Lakes. Milwaukee, 1983.
Stevenson et al. “The Woodland Tradition”, The Wisconsin Archaeologist, vol. 78, No1/2, 1999.


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