Middle Archaic Period

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

The Middle Archaic period in Iowa dates from about 8,000 to 4,500 B.P. It is characterized by a wide range of medium-sized (averaging between 30 and 60 mm in length) stemmed and notched projectile point forms. Stemmed point styles including the Jakie type and corner-notched forms are characteristic of the early part of the Middle Archaic period in the eastern part of the state, roughly 8,000 to 6,500 B.P. By about 6,500 B.P., side-notched point forms known by a variety of type names (e.g. BrannanGodarMatanzas, Raddatz, Robinson, and Tama) become dominant and these carry through to the end of the Middle Archaic period. Side-notched point styles seem to be characteristic of the entire range of the Middle Archaic period in western Iowa. The Middle Archaic period of Iowa is essentially contemporary with the Early Plains Archaic period defined further west on the Great Plains. 

Overall, Middle Archaic lithic assemblages are less refined and less distinctive than those associated with preceding periods. Middle Archaic projectile points are generally smaller and more poorly made than those of the Late Paleoindian/Early Archaic period. Middle Archaic chipped-stone tool technology relied upon a variety of local cherts and heat-treatment was commonly applied to all chert varieties regardless of their initial quality. As a general rule, Middle Archaic flake tools are smaller and less formally patterned than those characteristic of Early Archaic assemblages. These changes in chipped-stone technology may be related to decreased mobility and territory size which could have diminished overall access to good-quality lithic raw materials. 

In contrast to the marked decline in the size and quality of chipped-stone tools, Middle Archaic assemblages are also characterized by the widespread appearance and proliferation of pecked and ground stone artifacts. Grooved axes appear early in the Middle Archaic period. Full-grooved axes are the earliest form and by the middle of the Middle Archaic period, rounded-bottom three-quarter grooved axes are also represented. Flat-bottomed three-quarter grooved axes appear to have been in use by the end of the Middle Archaic period. Bannerstones, used as weights on atlatls, also appear early in the Middle Archaic period and various forms were used through the Middle Archaic period into the following Late Archaic period. 

Middle Archaic subsistence is poorly known from eastern Iowa. Contemporary Archaic populations in western Iowa relied heavily on bison procurement. Evidence from sites in adjacent Illinois suggests that early Middle Archaic floral and faunal use was not substantially different from the preceding Early Archaic. By the latter part of the Middle Archaic period, defined as the Helton phase at the Koster site, west-central Illinois, more intensive means of procuring various plant and animal food resources are suggested. Increased exploitation of aquatic resources and nuts is indicated by the floral and faunal remains from these sites as well as by the presence of specialized equipment for procuring and processing these foods such as bone fishhooks, net weights, nutting stones, and manos and metates. 

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.

Brown, James A., and Robert K. Vierra
1983 What Happened in the Middle Archaic? Introduction to an Ecological Approach to Koster Site Archaeology. In Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest, edited by James L. Phillips and James A. Brown, pp. 165-195. Academic Press, New York.

Cook, Thomas G.
1976 Koster: An Artifact Analysis of Two Archaic Phases in West-Central Illinois. Prehistoric Records 1, Koster Research Reports 3. Northwestern University Archaeology Program, Evanston, Illinois.