Indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands

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Cultural regions of North American people at the time of European contact, including the southeast.
A sacred religious symbol to the Southeastern peoples was the solar cross which was a symbol of both the sun and fire. It had several variations, the one shown is from the Caddo from East Texas.

Southeastern Woodlands peoples or Southeastern cultures are an ethnographic classification for Indigenous peoples that have traditionally inhabited the Southeastern United States and the northeastern border of Mexico, that share common cultural traits.

Cultural region[edit]

This classification is a part of the Eastern Woodlands. The concept of a southeastern cultural region was developed by anthropologists, beginning with Otis Mason and Frank Boas in 1887. The boundaries of the region are defined more by shared cultural traits than by geographic distinctions.[1] Because the cultures gradually instead of abruptly shift into Plains, Prairie, or Northeastern Woodlands cultures, scholars do not always agree on the exact limits of the Southeastern Woodland culture region. Shawnee, Powhatan, Waco, Tawakoni, Tonkawa, Karankawa, Quapaw, and Mosopelea are usually seen as marginally southeastern and their traditional lands represent the borders of the cultural region.[2]

Culture and history[edit]

In the Late Prehistoric time period in the Southeastern Woodlands, cultures increased agricultural production, developed ranked societies, increased their populations, trade networks, and intertribal warfare.[3] Most Southeastern peoples (excepting some of the coastal peoples) were highly agricultural, growing crops like maize, squash, and beans for food. They supplemented their diet with hunting, fishing,[4] and gathering wild plants and fungi.

Frank Speck identified several key cultural traits of Southeastern Woodlands peoples — being matrilineal, exogamous, being social organized by towns, used of fish poison, purification ceremonies, practicing the Green Corn Ceremony, among other traits.[1] Southeastern peoples also have traditionally shared a similar religious beliefs, based on animism. They observe strict incest taboos, and in the past frequently allowed polygamy and held puberty rites.[4] Medicine people are important spiritual healers. Southeastern Woodlands societies were often divided into clans, the most common from precontact Hopewellian times into the present include Bear, Beaver, Bird other than a raptor, Canine (e.g. Wolf), Elk, Feline (e.g. Panther), Fox, Raccoon, and Raptor.[5]

Many southeastern peoples engaged in mound building to create sacred or acknowledge sites. Many of the religious beliefs of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex or the Southern Cult, where also shared by the Northeastern Woodlands tribes, probably spread through the dominance of the Mississippian culture in the 10th century.

During the Indian Removal era of the early 19th century, many southeastern tribes were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory by the US federal government;[6] however, many tribes remain in their traditional southeast homelands today.

Visual arts[edit]

Belonging in the Lithic stage, the oldest known art in the Americas is the Vero Beach bone, possibly a mammoth bone, etched with a profile of walking mammoth that dates back to 11,000 BCE.[7]

The Poverty Point culture inhabited portions of the state of Louisiana from 2000–1000 BCE during the Archaic period.[8] Many objects excavated at Poverty Point sites were made of materials that originated in distant places, including chipped stone projectile points and tools, ground stone plummets, gorgets and vessels, and shell and stone beads. Stone tools found at Poverty Point were made from raw materials which originated in the relatively nearby Ouachita and Ozark Mountains and from the much further away Ohio and Tennessee River valleys. Vessels were made from soapstone which came from the Appalachian foothills of Alabama and Georgia.[9] Hand-modeled lowly fired clay objects occur in a variety of shapes including anthropomophic figurines and cooking balls.[8]

The Mississippian culture flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 CE to 1500 CE, varying regionally.[10] After adopting maize agriculture the Mississippian culture became fully agrarian, as opposed to the hunting and gathering supplemented by part-time agriculture practiced by preceding woodland cultures. They built platform mounds larger and more complex than those of their predecessors, and finished and developed more advanced ceramic techniques, commonly using ground mussel shell as a tempering agent. Many were involved with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, a pan-regional and pan-linguistic religious and trade network. The majority of the information known about the S.E.C.C. is derived from examination of the elaborate artworks left behind by its participants, including elaborate pottery, shell gorgets and cups, stone statuary and Long-nosed god maskettes. By the time of European contact the Mississippian societies were already experiencing severe social stress, and with the social upsets and diseases introduced by Europeans many of the societies collapsed and ceased to practice a Mississippian lifestyle, with an exception being the Natchez people. Other tribes descended from Mississippian cultures include the Caddo, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Wichita, and many other southeastern peoples.

The Calusa peoples occupied the southern areas of Florida before European contact, and created carvings of animals.

The Seminoles are best known for their textile creations, especially patchwork clothing. Doll-making is another notable craft.[11]

List of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands[edit]

  • Chickamauga, band of Cherokees in Tennessee and Georgia

Contemporary federally recognized Southeastern Woodlands tribes[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jackson and Fogelson 3
  2. ^ Jackson and Fogelson 6
  3. ^ Messenger, Lewis C. "The Southeastern Woodlands: Mississippian-Late Prehistoric Cultural Developments." University of Indiana: MATRIX. (retrieved 2 June 2011)
  4. ^ a b "Southeastern Woodlands Culture." Four Directions Institute. (retrieved 2 June 2011)
  5. ^ Carr and Case 340
  6. ^ "People and Events: Indian Removal, 1814-1858." PBS: Resource Bank. (retrieved 25 April 2010)
  7. ^ "Ice Age Art from Florida." Past Horizons. 23 June 2011 (retrieved 23 June 2011)
  8. ^ a b "Poverty Point-2000 to 1000 BCE". Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  9. ^ "CRT-Louisiana State Parks Fees, Facilities and Activities". Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  10. ^ Mississippian Period: Overview
  11. ^ Material from the State Archives of Florida.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sturtevant and Fogelson, 374
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Sturtevant and Fogelson, 69
  14. ^ a b c d e f Sturtevant and Fogelson, 205
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Sturtevant and Fogelson, ix
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sturtevant and Fogelson, 214
  17. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 673
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sturtevant and Fogelson, 81-82
  19. ^ a b c Sturtevant and Fogelson, 315
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Sturtevant, 617
  21. ^ a b c d e Frank, Andrew K. Indian Removal. Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. (retrieved 10 July 2009)
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sturtevant and Fogelson, 293
  23. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 188
  24. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 598-9
  25. ^ "The Old Mobile Project Newsletter". "University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies". Retrieved 2011-06-03. 
  26. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 290
  27. ^ a b Sturtevant and Fogelson, 291
  28. ^ a b c Sturtevant and Fogelson, 302
  29. ^ Haliwa-Saponi Tribe. (retrieved 10 July 2009)
  30. ^ Hann 1993
  31. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 78, 668
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Hann 1996, 5-13
  33. ^ Hann 2003:11
  34. ^ Sturtevant and Fogelson, 190


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