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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PREHISTORIC INHABITANTS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

PREHISTORIC INHABITANTS. Following the melting of the last glacial advances, ca. 15,000 years ago, northeast Ohio was an area of slow, gravel-choked rivers, high bogs, and ice-ponded lakes. Vegetation was a mixture of near-Arctic tundra, roamed by herd of caribou, as well as mastodon, giant beaver, moose, lynx, and wolves. There is no convincing evidence of the presence of Paleo-Indians in Ohio at this early date. When climates moderated and western Lake Erie drained, about 12,500 years ago, bogs and marshes drained and rejuvenated rivers and streams. Caribou roamed the older lakeshore, while rather temperate upland forests supported elk, deer, wolves, bear, and cougar.

Numerous isolated examples of the "fluted" spearpoints characteristic of Paleo-Indian hunters and gatherers from 12,500 and 9,500 years ago have been found throughout the region. A small but remarkably well-preserved early Paleo-Indian site, with evidence of post structures dated between 11,200 and 10,850 years ago was recently excavated in northeastern Medina county; most of the tools were made of flint brought from southern Indiana. A number of plowed-out later Paleo-Indian sites are known from the bluffs lining the Vermilion, Black, and upper Tuscarawas rivers.

Beginning some 9,500 years ago, warmer and drier weather, coupled with a slow rise in Lake Erie and changes in the rivers flowing into it, initiated significant and rapid changes in the region's climate and ecology, and in the technology and society of its prehistoric populations. Sometime between 9,000-6,500 years ago, essentially modern natural environments had become established. The inhabitants of this period, termed Early Archaic, increased in density as they more efficiently exploited the area's resources. Living in larger groups of several related families congregating along the river bottoms and lakeshore, the populations broke into single-family hunting and gathering groups dispersing into the uplands for the winter and spring. The fluted spearpoints were replaced by stemmed or notched spearpoints and knives, usually of low-quality flints. There was also an increase in chipped and partially ground adzes and axes, mortars, and pestles made of igneous and metamorphic rock.

While Early Archaic artifacts have been found throughout the area, few campsites have been adequately reported. A significant concentration of small Early Archaic material was recovered from areas surrounding old Lake Abraham bog, and tools have been found at springs near the headwaters of Big Creek, Cahoon Creek, MILL CREEK, and TINKER'S CREEK. One major Early Archaic campsite existed where Hilliard Blvd. crossed the Rocky River. A well-preserved site was excavated in a rockshelter along the Aurora branch of the CHAGRIN RIVER. But it is likely that the major Early Archaic sites in Cleveland lie under the city, or have been destroyed by industrial developments of the Cuyahoga flats. Many sites along, the lower portions of the rivers might have been buried by the nearly 130' rise of Lake Erie.

In the Middle Archaic period (6,500-4,000 years ago), population density increased and regional territories were more expertly and intensively utilized, with family groups moving seasonally to obtain the available natural resources. There is a proliferation of ground and polished stone tools and ornaments, and standardization of a greater variety of specialized chipped-stone notched points and knives, as well as scrapers and drills. There is some evidence that an increased number of groups came together and stayed longer at the Lake Erie mouths of major streams. Smaller sites were located along the old terraces of upstream portions of the Cuyahoga, Rocky River, Chippewa Creek, Tinker's Creek, and Griswold Creek. There appears to have been little Middle Archaic occupation of upland areas of Greater Cleveland. From the scattered sites have come the earliest evidence of burial practices, individuals in shallow circular pits casually accompanied by only 1 or 2 chipped-stone points or a single ground-stone axe or pendant.

The Late Archaic period (2000-500 B.C.), coincided with a much warmer climate than presently exists. Late Archaic sites yield the first unambiguous evidence for regionally specific and spatially restricted aboriginal territories, within which groups scheduled their seasonal movements to obtain natural resources, especially nuts. It also shows clear evidence of limited gardening of squash and a number of native seed plants, and for long-distance trade (to the Gulf Coast) of raw material and finished artifacts, marking ceremonial status differences within their cemeteries. Although there were few changes in the chipped-stone tools, new artifacts of ground and polished stone and of shell appeared, among these, hollow tubes used as handles and smoking pipes; geometric and zoomorphic carved weights and hooks for spear throwers (Atlatls); and ritually shaped pendants and plummets of rock and native ores. Many Late Archaic burials were of single individuals in circular pits covered with red ocher, often accompanied by traded artifacts or caches of unused chipped-flint spearpoints, or the preforms of such points. Groups of such burials occurred in high gravel or sand knolls. Locally, the largest known burial area was at the junction of the East and West branches of the Rocky River. While Late Archaic artifacts have been found throughout the area, the greatest concentration appears to have been along the ancient lake beach ridges and on the wider upper terraces of the major rivers.

The following Early Woodland (500 B.C.-A.D. 100) and Middle Woodland (A.D. 100-ca. A.D. 700) periods are characterized by increasing elaboration of the ceremonial exchange and mortuary rituals of the Late Archaic. Several new artifact types mark this period, including crude but elaborately decorated pottery. While seasonal economic activities are not well known, the frequency of charred seed, squash, and pumpkin and, the limited ceremonial presence of some maize suggest the beginnings of limited village horticulture. The most visible remains are the earthen mounds used in mortuary ceremonies, with known mounds concentrated on high bluffs and terraces overlooking major waterways, which may be a preservation phenomenon. The low density of known sites is probably a result of the still somewhat mobile subsistence-settlement patterns and of the alteration and destruction of land surface over the past centuries.

The mound reported by Whittlesey from the western portion of Eagle St. Cemetery appears to have been an Early Woodland Adena mound. Whittlesey investigated several apparently Adena mounds within the Cuyahoga Valley east of Tinker's Creek, and recovered a tubular stone pipe from a large Adena mound just east of the Cuyahoga River. Materials recovered by professional and amateur archaeologists appear to represent small, seasonally specialized campsites.

The Middle Woodland period continues tendencies of the Early Woodland period. There is more nucleated settlement, and evidence of the increasing importance of horticulture, especially maize, although the economy was still based on semi-sedentary hunting and gathering. There is a culmination in Ohio of the Hopewellian culture, with their elaborate earthworks of large multiple burial mounds, not known outside of southern Ohio, although a number of what may be Middle Woodland earthwork sites are being investigated in northern Summit County. Within the Cleveland area, some local collections revealed Hopewellian projectile points, flint-blade knives, and ceramics, although few well-documented exotic artifacts have been found. One Middle Woodland mound, just south of Brecksville, contained a large cache of Hopewellian trade goods within a 6-sided stone crypt. Another smaller mound between Willowick and Eastlake yielded several large ceremonial spear points of chert from southwest Illinois. A small group of Early to Middle Woodland mounds, excavated in 1878 in the S. Chagrin Reservation yielded a very unusual cache of "duck-billed" points of Arkansas flint.

Some conical burial mounds along the Middle Cuyahoga River, excavated in the last century, yielded material similar to that associated with southern Ohio Hopewellian ceremony. Whittlesey's mention of stone-covered graves along the river bluffs overlooking the lower portions of the Cuyahoga River may also pertain to this period. Urban and industrial developments have probably destroyed many actual sites that might have existed in Cleveland. In the adjacent uplands, the Early and Middle Woodland period is represented by the remains of what seem to be a number of small, ridge-top hunting camps. As in earlier periods, many sites may be buried under valley sediments, or on older, drowned Lake Erie beaches off river mouths, now lost to erosion. A classic Hopewell spearpoint was recovered in re-excavation of what seemed to be a mound at the W. 54th St. Division waterworks.

After A.D. 400, the Hopewellian, exchange systems and mortuary ceremonialism declined, which does not, however, indicate cultural disintegration, as no evidence for invasion or population replacement exists. While local sites did not yield elaborate ritual artifacts, populations increased in density. There was an economic shift to maize agriculture, rescheduling other subsistence activities toward this end. Small Late Woodland villages represent substantial and increasingly self-sufficient groups between A.D. 400 and A.D. 700. However, the material remains of the period are unspectacular and show a general sameness throughout the northeastern U.S. Most sites are small rockshelter campsites along major river valleys to the south and east of Cleveland. Because of preservation factors, ceramics and projectile points are all that are normally recovered.

The early Late Woodland corresponds to a period of mild climate. Archeological sites show few differences in the size or composition of the groups that occupied them, although they seem to have been occupied at different seasons for different purposes. None are permanent agricultural villages, although corn and squash are present at several. Most sites occupied from late summer to early spring sat on steep ridges overlooking valleys of the Cuyahoga, Rocky, or Lower Chagrin rivers. Small, circular houses contained 1 or 2 fire hearths and a few shallow storage pits. Most projectile points were notched, but a few were triangular, and there were a variety of tools and ornaments made of antler and bone. During springtime, populations lived in large plant-collecting and fishing camps located along the lakeshore ridges, shores of small ponds and bogs, or headwaters of creeks and tributaries to major rivers. In 1988 evidence of a small, early, late-woodland occupation or campsite was found on the buried sands underlying the area where Jacobs Field now stands.

Between A.D. 1000-A.D. 1200, there were several summer villages on the terraces of the Cuyahoga and Lower Chagrin rivers with oval houses of single-post construction. Similar ceramic and lithic artifacts have been encountered at relatively large agricultural sites on the second terraces of the Cuyahoga, Chagrin, and Grand rivers. Along the smaller tributaries of these rivers, well into the uplands, there were a number of very small reoccupied fall and winter hunting camps, some in rockshelters. There were even smaller, more seasonally limited single-family activities, possibly collecting tubers and greens during the early spring, and a few sites of differing sizes occupied during the fall. Sites on sand ridges cut by streams entering Lake Erie were seasonally reoccupied as small fishing camps. Throughout this period, the emphasis on burial ceremony declined. Most individuals were placed in simple shallow graves located within the campsite or village where they died. Grave goods are rare, and those existing were mundane personal tools, utensils, or ornaments.

In eastern North America from A.D. 1200-A.D. 1600, a "Mississippian", culture with unspecified MesoAmerican influence became increasingly urbanized and agricultural. While this did not spread into the Great Lakes area, its influences can be seen in Cleveland after A.D. 1200 in new ceramic and house styles, new crops (common beans), and the occasional presence of materials traded into the region from more southerly centers. In southern Ohio, this Woodland population is called Ft. Ancient, and where Ft. Ancient survived it represented some portion of the Shawnee. In New York and Ontario, populations similar to those in northeast Ohio diverged into the various Iroquoian tribes encountered by the French. At this time distinct archeological complexes of the Cleveland area began showing strong differences from sites between the Black River and the Sandusky Bay / Lake Erie Islands region to the west.

Within northeastern Ohio, the Late Woodland/Mississippian culture was named the Whittlesey Tradition, after Col. CHAS. WHITTLESEY†, who first reported many of their sites. From A.D. 1200-A.D. 1350, sites of the earliest Whittlesey phase reflect an economy still balancing hunting, fishing, and gathering with limited gardening. From spring through fall, small villages, probably occupied by 3 or 4 related families, located along major rivers. During winters, small family hunting groups camped at springs or in upland rockshelters. Few tools of any type are found at most sites, except for flake scrapers, with a few small triangular projectile points and stemmed knives.

Between A.D. 1350-A.D. 1500, the Whittlesey Tradition shifted to increasingly rely on agriculture, introducing beans and new varieties of maize. The larger villages on low terraces near secondary stream mouths were occupied from summer into the fall. Small autumn and winter fishing stations and hunting camps were on the edge of the lake plain, occasionally associated with group cemeteries. As summer villages grew larger and were occupied longer, society became more dependent on agriculture, and the specialized hunting and fishing campsites became smaller and more scattered. By ca. A.D. 1400, the summer villages were generally found on protected promontories overlooking interior river valleys. Domestic architecture changed, from randomly scattered, simple circular to oval "wigwam" structures about 250 sq. ft., made of saplings lashed together at the top; to later, rather squared houses, with areas around 400 sq. ft., regularly spaced and oriented, some with dug trenches for setting wall posts.

Throughout the earlier Whittlesey Tradition, simple burial rites were maintained. Some indication of a greater social hierarchy appear after A.D. 1350. Multiple burial and occasional reburial of family members in larger graves at specific village sites probably represents the social recognition of family- or lineage-controlled territory. Although grave goods are mundane, some groups were accompanied by more ornamental goods than were others. By the later Whittlesey Tradition, nearly all burials, were single graves located in large cemeteries close to, but not within, the large permanent villages. Grave goods are quite rare.

The final Whittlesey phase began ca. A.D. 1500. There is clear evidence for year-round occupation in large fortified villages growing maize, beans, and squash with dense rows of multifamily "long houses," and at one site, a circular semisubterranean ceremonial pit house used as a sweat lodge. Recently investigated village sites were located at about 8-mi. intervals on isolated promontories of steeply dissected bluffs along the Cuyahoga Valley. But sites Whittlesey reported in southern Cleveland and Cuyahoga Hts. are now gone, and any large sites farther downstream were probably destroyed by the mid-1800s. It is possible that these few large villages represent 10-to 20-year village movements of a single "tribe" within the Cuyahoga Valley. The subsistence-settlement system had apparently shifted to reliance on a focused, if not intensive, agricultural economy like that of the Iroquois. Nonagricultural resources were subordinated to periods of nonintensive agricultural efforts. The location of the agricultural villages does not appear to be correlated only to agricultural factors. The frequency of palisades, earthen walls, and ditches and the village locations on narrow-necked, steep-sided promontories commanding a view of their valley suggests defensive considerations. There were, at the same time, more cases of traumatic injury, nutritional deficiency, and disease. At some sites, refuse pits contained butchered and charred fragments of human bone. These large villages had as neighbors small special-purpose campsites.

If the Whittlesey settlement pattern approximates that of the Iroquois, their sociocultural behavior seems closer to such Algonkian groups as the Shawnee. That such a combination may not have been advantageous is suggested by the fact that despite the increased agricultural economy, prior to the disappearance of local aboriginal groups ca. A.D. 1640, northeastern Ohio displays a more highly concentrated but lower overall population than existed ca. A.D. 1400. The latest Whittlesey phase, from A.D. 1500-A.D. 1640, corresponded with the "Little Ice Age," with moister, very long and cold winters. It is possible that frost-free seasons were so shortened and irregular that the agricultural economy became a disadvantage. The latest aboriginal population density was increasingly clustered after A.D. 1500, and by the end of this period, evidence exists for lower populations, internal demographic stress, warfare, torture of captives, and limited cannibalism. These factors may explain the failure of Late Whittlesey populations to compete successfully for a role in the early European fur trade, or to survive the territorial competition it created. The latest Whittlesey sites have been dated to ca. A.D. 1640. They contain no evidence of deliberate destruction or of even indirect European contact. Following the abandonment of these sites, this area appears to have been, unoccupied on any permanent basis until the mid-1740s, when groups of Wyandot or OTTAWA moved west into the area from Detroit.

Specific ethnic identification for the Whittlesey Tradition is, unfortunately, speculative. Radical population displacements are documented in contemporary European accounts of the 17th century. Thus, we cannot assume that the groups historically reported in the early 18th century are ethnically related to those of the early 17th century. The Erie have been historically accepted as the precontact tribe occupying the entire south shore of Lake Erie, but documentation for this is minimal. Based upon the earliest French documents, there were a number of distinct aboriginal groups along Lake Erie in the early 17th century. Prehistoric Erie villages are located between Erie, PA, and Buffalo, NY, but it appears the Erie never located farther west than the present New York/Pennsylvania state line. To the south and/or west of the Erie, the Wenro were said to speak an Iroquoian language, while further west were Algonkian-speaking groups.

It was once claimed that sites of the Whittlesey Focus were found along the entire south shore of Lake Erie, imposing uniformity on very different archeological manifestations. Late prehistoric ceramics recovered between Lorain and Conneaut are distinct from those of more eastern or western Lake Erie sites. Those sites in southeastern Michigan and northwestern Ohio, previously assigned to the Whittlesey Focus, possibly represent the proto-Algonkian occupation that early maps place at the west end of Lake Erie. While the latest prehistoric Whittlesey culture of the Cleveland area had a ceramic tradition more closely related to Algonkian-speaking cultures than to Iroquoian speakers, there is no clear evidence for the names by which their historic descendants (if any) were known.

David S. Brose

The Royal Ontario Museum and

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Native American Trails, Mounds, and Fortifications ( 90 Kbytes ) Last Modified: 02 Mar 1998 11:26:02 AM

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