Wednesday, March 16, 2016

pottery making
"Artisan of the Woodland" is the theme of this year's Florida Archaeology Month.  But as we meet the month's half way mark, some of you may still be wondering "what IS the Woodland Period?" and "what were the artisans doing?"  If you still have these questions, don't be ashamed, you're not alone!

Florida's Woodland Period occurred approximately 1000 BC - 1000 AD in the Eastern part of North America (from Eastern Canada to the Eastern part of the United States down to the Gulf of Mexico).  To give a very general idea of where this falls on the timeline of Prehistoric peoples:

 Paleo-Indian Era 13,000 B.C. - 7000 B.C.
Archaic Era 7500 B.C. - 500 B.C.
*Woodland Period 1000 B.C. - 1000 A.D.
Mississippian Period 1000 A.D. - 1600 A.D.

The Woodland Period is further broken down into three parts: Early, Middle, and Late (creatively labeled!)  For more details on each of these, see the Southeast Archaeological Center

But what generally sets the Woodland period apart from the other eras?  It is defined by three key traits:
1) increased sedentism and social stratification
2) intensification of cultivation (to supplement hunting and gathering)
3) widespread adoption of ceramics

The native peoples did not awake on the first day of year 1001 BC and say "Hey! Lets stay put for a while and start planting these seeds!"

Rather, changes occurred gradually through deep time.  These traits actually begin to be seen in the late Archaic Era but are not wide spread in the Southeast until later in the Woodland Period.                

Life of the Woodland people is still very evident in Florida today.  It can most prominently be seen in our State's many existing mounds such as Green Mound, Turtle Mound and Thursby Mound, just to name a few.  Some of these mounds reflect the peoples' increased sedentism (large trash heaps comprised primarily of oyster and clam shells).  Other mounds reveal their increased social stratification (higher physical location = higher social position).  While still others reveal both (archaeologists discovering layers of trash, building remains, more trash and more building remains).                               
Turtle Mound in Cape Canaveral National Seashore
In addition to mounds, Archaeologists often see evidence of the Woodland Peoples in their pottery remains, the most commonly found being St. Johns.  St. Johns Pottery differs from its predecessor, The Archaic Period's Orange Pottery which is thicker and fiber tempered:                                                   
Orange Pottery
St. Johns Pottery has thin walls, is light weight and chalky.   It further evolved from having a plain surface:                                                   
St. Johns Plain Pottery
to having a check stamp:
St. Johns Check Stamped Pottery
Of course St. John's pottery can be broken down into WAY more complicated detail (some archaeologists counting the amount and spacing of the checks!)  If you want more detailed differentiation, check out the collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Now, enjoy the remaining half of Florida Archaeology Month!  

Text by FPAN Staff, Robbie Boggs
Photo Credits:  pottery making image:, Turtle Mound photo: University of Central Florida, modern trash photo:, light bulb photo:, orange and st. johns pottery photos: Florida Museum of Natural History

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