Late Paleoindian/Early Archaic Period

by Toby Morrow 
© Copyright 1996 The University of Iowa. All rights reserved. 

The period between 10,500 and 8,000 in Iowa is characterized by two different regional traditions. This span of time includes what has traditionally been defined as Late Paleoindian on the Great Plains and Early Archaic in the Eastern Woodlands. Rather than representing two separate sequential time periods, in Iowa Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic were contemporary. There is some geographic variation in the distribution of these two traditions across the state. Unstemmed lanceolate (elongated, leaf-shaped) and stemmed lanceolate point styles attributed to Late Paleoindian traditions tend to dominate in the western half of Iowa while the lanceolate, stemmed, and notched points characterizing the Early Archaic traditions are more prevalent in the eastern part of the state. 

Direct evidence for this period of time from excavated contexts is sparse, so most of our knowledge of this period is derived from neighboring regions and the artifact chronologies established elsewhere. Only two sites dating to this interval of time have been excavated in Iowa, both of them in the northwest part of the state. Horizon III of the Cherokee Sewer site was dated to 8400 B.P. This zone produced an assemblage of unstemmed and weakly stemmed lanceolate points characteristic of the later Late Paleoindian traditions. The single radiocarbon date of 8430 B.P. from the Simonsen site suggests rough contemporaneity with Horizon III at Cherokee. At Simonsen, however, side-notched points more characteristic of what is known as Early Plains Archaic (not to be confused with Early Archaic in the Eastern Woodlands) were recovered. Bison hunting appears to have been a major subsistence pursuit at both Cherokee and Simonsen. These two sites cannot be taken as representative of the entire state and they only relate the later part of the period discussed here. It is very unlikely that bison hunting was a common practice among Early Archaic groups living in eastern Iowa because bison do not appear to have been present in great numbers in this part of the state at this time. A more diversified subsistence economy relying on deer, small mammals, birds, fish, fruits, and nuts was probably typical for eastern Iowa as it was in adjacent Illinois and Missouri. 

A diverse range of diagnostic Early Archaic and Late Paleoindian projectile point and knife styles are found in Iowa. Lanceolate Dalton points represent the earliest Early Archaic tradition of the region, dating from about 10,500 to perhaps 9,500 B.P. Chipped- stone adzes, specialized wood chopping tools, were an important new addition to the Dalton tool kit. Dalton points were roughly contemporary with certain Late Paleoindian point types such as Agate Basin and Plainview that are also found in Iowa. Based on differences in regional distribution and lithic raw material use, Agate Basin points appear to have been the products of groups of people who were distinct from those who made and used Dalton points. 

Corner-notched St. Charles points and Thebes Knives date from about 9,400 to 9,000 B.P. and are related to the Early Archaic sequence of the region. These would have been roughly contemporary with Hell Gap and Alberta points of Late Paleoindian affiliation. Stemmed and Barbed Hardin points and teardrop-shaped Bass knives appear to have developed out of the St. Charles and Thebes styles and probably date between 9,000 and 8,500 B.P. Hardin points and Bass Knives were contemporary with Scottsbluff and Eden points on the Great Plains. Kirk corner-notched points date from about 9,200 to 8,800 B.P. in the southeastern U.S. and small numbers of Kirk points and related forms are found in eastern Iowa as well. 

Bifurcate base (notched in the center of the base) points are typical of the latter part of the Early Archaic sequence (8,800 to 8,000 B.P.) in the southeastern U.S. A very few of these disinctive points have been found in southeast and central Iowa. Lanceolate points with parallel-oblique or random pressure flaking appear to be much more common across Iowa. These latter styles of points are known from Great Plains Late Paleoindian sites dating from about 8,500 to 7,500 B.P. 

Suggested Reading

Anderson, Duane C., and Holmes A. Semken, Jr., editors
1980 The Cherokee Excavations: Holocene Ecology and Human Adaptations in Northwestern Iowa. Academic Press, New York.

Frankfurter, W. D., and George A. Agogino
1960 The Simonsen Site: A Report for the Summer of 1959. Plains Anthropologist 5(10):65-70.