Woodland I Period

Native American Projectile Point Classification Guide

Woodland I Period (3000 B.C. – A.D. 1000). The Woodland I time period is one of profound culture change in prehistoric Delaware. The Archaic period oak-hemlock forests were replaced first by oak-hickory and then oak-chestnut forests which were exceptionally rich in food resources. In the southern parts of the state, oak-pine forests were more common. Studies of Delaware’s coastal zone show that the large brackish water marshes of the present day were first established in abundance at this time and coastal resources such as shellfish, particularly oysters, and fish began to be available in large numbers. At the same time, the climate became warmer and dryer. There is some evidence that parts of Delaware’s landscape was denuded of vegetation to the point that wind-blown soil erosion and deposition occurred.

In the face of these dry conditions, the larger rivers and coastal areas became preferred living locations because they had more reliable sources of fresh water. Nonetheless, interior areas were still good places to hunt and gather resources even though limited availability of fresh water made them undesirable for long term occupation. In order to cope with this change in environments, Woodland I groups established somewhat long term base camps along the rivers and on the coast and made periodic short term forays into the interior to procure resources.

Riverine base camps of the Woodland I Period show the first signs of substantial prehistoric dwellings in Delaware. Stains from ancient posts are sometimes preserved and show outlines of circular houses approximately 20 feet in diameter. These circular “wigwam” structures often had interior fireplaces and excavated semi-subterranean living floors. Deep pits for storing food are also present in some houses. At one site on the Leipsic River, a large sheet of bark was found in one of the house pits and it suggests that at least some of these dome-shaped houses were covered with bark supported by a wooden framework. The interior hearths and food storage areas also suggest that some of the houses were inhabited during the cold-weather months. Hundreds of these houses have been excavated at sites excavated as part of the construction of the new State Route 1 in Kent County, and they show little change in form or structure over the 4000 years of the entire Woodland I Period.

The consistent size of the houses indicates that small family groups were the main social units during the Woodland I Period, as they had been during the Paleo-Indian and Archaic Periods. Where large sites have been excavated, and where it is possible to look for sets of these houses that could comprise a community, it is clear that no large communities were present. The largest Woodland I community excavated to date, at a site just south of the new State Route 1 bridge over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, consists of 6 houses. However, it is much more common to find individual houses, or pairs of houses, rather than any larger communities. These data would tend to indicate that small family units were the most common large social units just as they had been during earlier time periods. However, the presence of pit houses and storage pits suggests more sedentary lifeways during the Woodland I Period.

A large variety of projectile points were manufactured and used during the Woodland I Period. Many of the varieties dating from the beginning of the Woodland I Period had stems and some were very wide in relation to their length and thickness. The wide “projectile points,” called “broadspears” (Perkiomen, Susquehanna, Lehigh/Koens-Crispin, Savannah River) were more likely to have been used as knives rather than projectile points and probably represent special function tools. (See Figure D.) Some of the larger Fox Creek points, manufactured in the later stages of the Woodland I Period, may also have been used as knives as well. (See Figure E.) Some very large artifacts that look like giant projectile points were also made during the Woodland I Period, but these were usually manufactured for use as grave offerings and were not used as everyday tools.

etching of Perkiomen broadspears

Figure D. Perkiomen broadspear

Many different lithic raw materials were also used to manufacture tools during the Woodland I Period. Some of these materials were locally available and water-worn cobbles were commonly used. In some cases you can see parts of the weathered rind of the cobble on the faces or base of the projectile points, especially if it was never finished. Other raw materials used are not locally available including rhyolite, mentioned during the discussion of the Archaic Period, and argillite from the Delaware River valley north of Trenton, New Jersey. These exotic materials could have been gathered when prehistoric hunters and gatherers wandered near the outcrop sources, or may have been obtained through trade. At some of the special cemetery sites, the large bifaces are made from lithic raw materials from as far away as Ohio. These materials were almost certainly obtained through trade.

Etching of a Fox Creek

Figure E. Fox Creek lanceolate (left) and
Fox Creek stemmed (right) points.

Another addition to Woodland I Period technology was pottery, or ceramics. There are many different varieties of prehistoric ceramics that can be found in Delaware and a description of them is beyond the scope of this book. Sometimes large sections, and even nearly complete vessels are found preserved in pits. But more commonly, only small fragments or sherds the size of a quarter or smaller can be found. Ceramic sherds are tan to brown to black in color and look a little like a hard and dense graham cracker fragment. It is good to collect pottery, if you can find it, because the varied styles of pottery are even more precisely dated than projectile points and can be very useful in determining the age of occupation of an archaeological site. In fact, the presence or absence of varied pottery types can be used to refine the time ranges of the projectile points found at a site.

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