North American Central Plains Woodland

Primary Researcher: Mary Adair, curator


This project is a collaborative effort of several colleagues and students to research and document the temporal, social, political and settlement-subsistence parameters of the various Middle Woodland groups who occupied the central Plains in prehistory. From approximately 500BC to AD900, the central region of the North American Great Plains was home to groups who adopted pottery manufacture and were becoming increasingly sedentary as farm crops became more important in their diets. Our current research focuses on the Kansas City Hopewell and another Middle Woodland group who resided about 150 miles west of the Hopewell.  Both groups existed from roughly 200BC to AD400, and while they shared several similarities, suggesting they knew each other, they were different cultures.

Hopewell is a term used to define various cultures, identified by distinctive artifact styles, elaborate mound construction and mortuary practices, and presence of exotic materials, which were united by a network of sociopolitical, ideological, and economic interactions over a large area of the mid-latitude United States.  Although of only modest complexity, the Hopewell phenomenon tied together societies of considerable organizational variability and structure.  At the western edge of the Hopewell influence was the Kansas City Hopewell (KCH), a culture adapted to the riverine environment of the lower Missouri Valley around present day Kansas City.  Our multifaceted research includes establishing a robust chronology based on AMS radiocarbon dates and associated ceramic and lithic styles; defining the internal organization of settlement structure at KCH habitation sites; delineating the magnitude of trade for exotic items, such as copper, obsidian, and marine shell; and explaining the social, political and ritual relationship that tied the KCH to the larger Hopewell phenomenon.

Originally identified by a series of limestone capped burial mounds, the middle Woodland Schultz phase is viewed as a semi-sedentary adaptation of small groups who also engaged in limited farming and participated in long distance trade for the acquisition of exotic items.  However, their habitation sites do not reflect the same level of complexity as seen with the KCH and their hunting patterns included an emphasis on bison.  The occasional presence of Hopewell designed pottery in Schultz phase sites is clear evidence of a temporal, and perhaps social, relationship between these two cultures.