North American Central Plains Woodland

Primary Researcher: Mary Adair, curator

This research is a collaborative effort of several colleagues and students to document the temporal, social, political and settlement-subsistence parameters of the various Middle Woodland groups who occupied the central Plains in prehistory.  From approximately 200BC to AD500, 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.  Current research focuses on the relationship among Kansas City Hopewell Valley and the Schultz phase Middle Woodland groups.

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 such as marine shell, obsidian, copper, and raw materials.  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 pronghorn and 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.

The Valley variant was first defined from excavations of the Schultz site (25VY1), located in east central Nebraska.  The 1939 investigations by A.T. Hill and Marvin Kivett disclosed a series of sub-surface depressions interpreted as house structures.  Many had interior hearths, suggesting an occupation span of greater than a single season. The ceramics, referred to as Valley ware, show similarities to Middle Woodland Havana ware found at Kansas City Hopewell sites.  Valley ware ceramics  are conical shaped vessels with cord-wrapped bodies and limited lip and rim decorations.  The common forms of decoration include embosses or punctates, incised lines, dentate stamping, lip notching and cord-wrapped stick impressions.  The presence of Valley ware in Kansas City Hopewell sites demonstrates the temporal, and perhaps social, overlap between these complexes.  Limited amounts of Valley ware in habitation sites tentatively assigned to the Schultz phase further supports a relationship among the three cultural groups.