S. Crouthamel, American Indian Studies/Anthropology, Palomar College

IV. Plains Traditions

The American Plains conveys the most dramatic images of the American West with Plains buffalo-horse cultures and the American cowboy. However, these are rather late lifestyles and the archaeological record reveals many traditions over thousands of years. The Plainsare in fact a prairie- grassland that ranges from 300-5,000 feet above sea level from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Three great river systems flowed from the Rocky Mountains into the Mississippi River. They include the Missouri River, the Arkansas River, and the Red River. These provided rich oasis-like environments with different and abundant  plants and animals. Later, these river bottom lands were ideal for agriculture. Out on the actual Plains game like the American bison (Bison bison) represented a diminutive form left from the ice age's megafauna. Some ice age creatures, like the caribou and musk ox, had moved to the Far North, but the American bison survived American Indian big game hunting and the increased aridity. Ancient bison had huge 6 foot horns and a bull weighed  ~ 3,000 lbs.; whereas the modern bison's horns had reduced to 1 foot and bulls weighed ~ 2,000 lbs. American Indians hunted the animal on foot and later on horseback. Later, Europeans tried to eliminate the 60 million head of bison on the Plains beginning in the 1800's. However, Plain's shift to agriculture came from the influence of Eastern Woodland cultures beginning around 5,600 BC.

 Plains Traditions Dates
Paleo-Indian Tradition( Clovis, Folsom, Plano)  11,500-5,600 BC (13,500 -7,600 BP)
Plains Archaic Traditions (Early/Middle/Late)   5,600 BC-AD 500 (7,600-1500 BP)
Plains Woodland Tradition   AD 1-1000 (2000- 1000 BP)
Plains Village Tradition  AD 1000- 1650 (1000-300 BP) 
Plains Tradition  AD 1650/1750-1890 (300-100 BP)

As Paleo-Indian hunters and gatherers adapted to Pleistocene extinctions the Big-Game emphasis and traditions persisted the longest in the North American Plains. The Plano Traditions ( Eden, Cody, Scottsbluff,etc.) were specifically Big-Game Traditions that exploited the more diminutive modern bisons only left out on the Plains ( a woods bison was in the Subarctic and Eastern Woodlands/ Bison athabascae). The altithermals of the Far West also had an affect on the Plains and the response was a change to more varied hunting and gathering strategies with a greater focus on wetter environments along the great rivers. Most of the changes came from ideas and people expanding from the Eastern Woodlands. after 6,000 B.C. The archaeological sites have smaller side notched/stemmed projectile points, evidence of more fresh water fish and shellfish, and grinding implements for wild plants. Upland bison hunting  and driving off jumps continued, but other resources became necessary.

Around 2,000 BC (4,000 BP) further Eastern Woodland influences came with Woodland Traditions (Adena/Hopewell) in the form of CBS domestics, cord/fiber marked pottery and certain cultural features like burial mounds came up the river valleys from the Ohio/Mississippi Bottoms into the lower Central Plains.

Plains Artifact Photo Gallery

Next Lecture: V. Far North Traditions

Copyright S. J. Crouthamel 2013