By the Late Woodland Period in the Susquehanna and Delaware Valleys, at approximately AD 1000, the bow and arrow had replaced the atlatl, and most groups were involved in a mixed food economy involving horticulture, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Settlements were more permanent and may have involved year-round occupations. Pottery is thinner, more durable, and characterized by a variety of incised geometric designs on the rim sections. Archaeologists are able to assign names to regional pottery styles and assume that they represent distinct cultural or ethnic groups or tribal groups.
In eastern Pennsylvania, habitation sites that date between AD 1000 and AD 1300 usually contain one or two houses of a size that would hold a large nuclear family. This suggests that the population was dispersed into widely spaced homesteads. However, burial mounds have been found from this time period in the central Susquehanna and Juniata River valleys, so people must have joined into larger groups periodically to maintain these mounds. Archaeologists refer to lifeways during this time period in the Susquehanna River valley as the Clemson Island culture. In addition to habitation sites, there are also many small sites in upland settings that represent short-term camps for fishing, hunting, or gathering plant foods.
After AD 1300 in the Susquehanna Valley, the scattered homesteads coalesced into clusters of houses, and by AD 1400 some of these were stockaded villages. In the Lower Susquehanna Valley, the Shenks Ferry culture evolved, and by AD 1450 their villages were stockaded, covering four acres and including over 60 nuclear-family sized houses. Houses were organized around a central plaza that sometimes contained a large circular structure that was likely used for community activities and ceremonies. Based on the house size and our knowledge of small farming cultures, these people were probably patrilineal in their social organization, that is, family relationships were defined through the father’s side of the family. Fields containing corn, beans, and squash surrounded the villages. The villages were moved approximately every decade as the soil fertility was depleted. Burials were scattered throughout the village, although most frequently situated between the outer ring of houses and the stockade. The stockades suggest that there may have been feuding between villages, but villages were also probably being threatened by outsiders.
Postmold patterns show a circular house at the Fort Loundon Site; a burial was found outside the house
In the Delaware River Valley, the pattern of small homesteads and hamlets continued until European contact. Unlike other regions, there is no evidence for large, stockaded villages. The Late Woodland complexes of this region are identified by pottery styles termed Minguannan and Overpeck. We assume that they represent slightly different cultural groups. Although agriculture was practiced, it appears to have been less important than hunting and gathering. The use of crops such as corn appears to have begun relatively late in this region and to have had little effect on life style. The reason for the late adoption is not clear, but it is notable that farming requires more effort than gathering wild foods. Because wild plant foods were abundant relative to population density, there may have been little reason to make the change to farming.
Late Woodland artifacts from the Delaware River Valley, from Archaeology in the Upper Delaware Valley, by W. Fred Kinsey (1972)
The Minguannan were ancestral to the Delaware, who occupied the region at the time of European contact. Based on historical accounts, the Delaware were matrilineal, and their houses were occupied by a group of sisters, female cousins, and their families. They had different house forms during different times of the year. Multi-family longhouses, occupied during the winter, could be over 100 feet long. Groups were smaller and more mobile in the summer, often living in small houses near agricultural fields. The Delaware are prominent in the history of William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania. Penn treated them fairly, but when he died that philosophy changed. The Delaware were cheated out of their lands and were moved out of the Delaware Valley by the 1730s. They moved to western Pennsylvania for a time, but by 1800 they had been displaced to Indiana. The main groups are currently living in Oklahoma and Ontario.
Beginning around AD 1550, the Susquehannock Indians appeared in the Lower Susquehanna Valley, and the Shenks Ferry people seem to have disappeared. It is not known whether the Susquehannocks conquered the indigenous Shenks Ferry culture, whether they incorporated Shenks Ferry people into their own culture, or whether the Shenks Ferry groups simply moved elsewhere. The Susquehannocks were Iroquoian speakers and shared many similarities with the Iroquois in New York. The Susquehannocks lived in large fortified villages, some of which may have contained as many as 5,000 people. The villages were composed of longhouses that were 60 – 80 feet in length, and housed a number of nuclear families related through the female line. The Susquehannock homeland was along the Susquehanna River, especially in Dauphin, Lancaster, and York counties. After European contact, the Susquehannocks engaged in extensive fur trading with the English, Dutch, and Swedes, receiving goods such as glass beads, iron axes, metal harpoons, brass kettles, and flintlock muskets. By 1650, much of their natural technology had been replaced by European technology.
Although the Susquehannocks controlled the fur trade for nearly a century, they were in constant conflict with other Indian tribes, especially the Seneca of western New York. Large-scale battles took place with the Seneca in Washington Boro and across the river in York County. The warfare and disease eventually caught up with the Susquehannocks, and in 1675 approximately 500 survivors left their village in York County and sought refuge with the English in Baltimore. However, this arrangement also ended in disaster, and with permission of the Seneca, they soon returned to the Lower Susquehanna Valley. They became known as the Conestoga Indians and frequently worked for the residents of Lancaster County. Two weeks before Christmas, in 1763, they were attacked by a gang from Harrisburg known as the “Paxtang Boys,” who were upset by Indian attacks from the Ohio Valley. The survivors were placed in the Lancaster jail for their own protection, but two days after Christmas, the Paxtang Boys returned and killed every man, woman, and child, thus ending the Susquehannock culture.
The Late Woodland Period is a time of social and economic change. Native Americans become more settled, first moving into scattered homesteads, then to larger collections of houses, and finally into stockaded villages. Warfare or feuding between villages seems to be widespread by AD 1550. With the arrival of Europeans and competition for their goods, warfare, and disease begin the destruction of Native American populations. Each of the tribes in Pennsylvania seems to have a different experience with the Europeans, but in the end their cultures are destroyed.