In these pages, you will find a brief summary of Native American cultural development in Pennsylvania. This process begins over 16,000 years ago with the earliest inhabitants migrating into the New World during the Ice Age. The process ends in Pennsylvania during the early 18th century when native populations are forced to leave due to the overwhelming intrusion of Europeans. Pennsylvania is situated at a cultural crossroads; bordered by the Canadian and New England boreal forest to the north, coastal environments to the east, and fertile valleys of the Piedmont zone to the south. This results in a series of cultural adaptations and changes that make Pennsylvania archaeology both complicated and fascinating.
What we know about prehistoric Native Americans in Pennsylvania comes from the scientific study of material remains, the study of archaeology. The evolution of Native American culture in this region has been divided into at least five time periods by archaeologists; each change is based on shifts in the archaeological record. It is believed that ancient people adapted tools to fit their lifestyle, and a transition in tools signals a change in how people lived, acquired food, organized their families, and practiced their religious beliefs. Below is an outline of each time period.
End of the Medieval Warming and beginning of the Little Ice Age
Native American populations reach their maximum size
The bow and arrow becomes dominant tool for hunting; pottery becomes progressively thinner, more durable, and culturally distinctive; ornamental items appear, ¬and stone and earthenware pipes become common
Hunting, fishing and gathering of wild foods continues along with an increasing dependence on domesticated plants such as corn, beans and squash
Farmsteads increase in size from a few houses to villages with a circular plan of fifty family size houses surrounding a central plaza; some villages in the Susquehanna valley consist of longhouses that include large extended families
Warm and dry climate; less predictable food resources
Hunting, gathering, fishing, and gardening; travel in territories of 25-75 miles
Extensive trade network in the Middle Atlantic Region Population pressure results in significant technological changes including steatite bowls used as cooking containers and large, broad-bladed points/knives known as broadspears
A system of trade partners functioned as a quasi-insurance policy in a climate where food procurement was less predictable