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Muskogean Mound Builders

Along the North Fork of the Shenandoah are the fertile bottomlands that made the valley famous. Between Strasburg, Woodstock and New Market, VA the river snakes its way through rich alluvial soils. Here, there is archival and unstudied archaeological evidence that an advanced Native American culture once existed in the Shenandoah Valley. Because of the lack of archaeological studies of Mississippian type sites in the Shenandoah Valley, the discussion on this period must remain highly speculative. Native American platform mounds still exist in Virginia. They will be discussed within Part Four. It should be noted that the Shenandoah Valley is between the two remaining platform mound sites and would have been the travel route between the two towns. It is a definite fact that Muskogean mound builders lived in southwestern Virginia until the 1730s, when they returned to Georgia and joined the Creek Indian Confederacy. They were the Tamahiti, known to Virginia anthropologists by the name used by Algonquians, the Tomahitans. Tamahiti means “Merchant People” in the Itsate Creek language. The word for maize in several Shawnee dialects is “tama.” Tama means trade in the Totonac language of Mexico. The Creek Indian languages contain many Totonac and Itza Maya loan...

Archaic Period

Archaic Period (7,000 BC – 1000 BC) The early part of this cultural period was characterized by warm, dry conditions. Sandy deserts existing in the coastal plain of the Carolinas, but probably, the landscape in the Shenandoah Valley would have been similar to that of eastern Colorado today. Ocean levels were continually rising because of melting glaciers and ice caps in the northern latitudes. By around 5000 BC, western Virginia’s climate was fairly close to what occurs today. After the concurrent die-off of many large mammals and warming of western Virginia, herds of three ruminant species, deer, bison and elk, dominated the valley. Large herds moved up and down the valley. Much of the lower elevations were grasslands. The herds consumed most trees and shrubs that tried to sprout. During the Archaic Period, the Shenandoah Valley must have been a prime location for hunting. Four hundred generations of humans in the Shenandoah Valley depended on the large herds of game animals for their primary sources of animal protein. Undoubtedly, there were ethnic groups whose cultures resembled those of the peoples of the Lower Missouri River Basin in the 1700s, who mixed agriculture with big-game hunting. Bison and elk disappeared from throughout the Southeast around 1740 to 1750. Suddenly, around 1740, the bison and elk throughout the Southeast disappeared. The extinction of bison and elk may have been caused by excessive hunting, but is more likely to have been caused by a cattle disease imported from England, such as brucellosis. Deer populations were decimated by excessive hunting in the early 1700s, but continued to survive in remote locations. Deer came...

Woodland Period

Early Woodland Period (1000 BC – 200 BC) In the Mid-Atlantic region, the Early Woodland Period is believed to have been a continuation of Late Archaic traditions. Native peoples slowly became more sophisticated in adapting to their environment. Population slowly increased. There were steadily more trade contacts between regions. An important trade route connecting the North Georgia Mountains and Tennessee River Valley with the Potomac River Valley passed through the Shenandoah Valley. It intersected major east-west trade routes at Harpers Ferry, WV and Roanoke, VA, where the James River passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains. At least as early as around 600 BC the Adena Culture reached the northern Shenandoah Valley from the Ohio Valley. None of the Adena sites in Virginia have been radiocarbon dated. Official Commonwealth of Virginia Native American histories do not even mention the Adena Culture. However, as stated earlier, the Native Americans of the Ridge and Valley Province in Virginia were often more similar culturally to contemporaries in West Virginia than Virginia. Of course, West Virginia was part of Virginia until the Civil War. The archaeological evidence for the Adena Culture will be discussed in Part 4. There are petroglyphs scattered throughout the Massanutten Mountains, east of Strasburg and Woodstock, VA. Even though most are within the Shenandoah National Forest, few have been either cataloged or studied. They probably date from the Woodland Period, but they have never been studied by specialists on petroglyphs Middle Woodland Period (200 BC – 900 AD?) The bow and arrow first appeared in Virginia during the Middle Woodland Period. Archaeologists today believe that it only had limited usage...

Paleo-Indian Period

Most of the Shenandoah Valley is part of the Ridge and Valley Province that extends from southeastern New York to northwest of Atlanta, GA. The eastern flank of the valley is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that extend from eastern Pennsylvania to northern suburbs of Atlanta, GA. The Blue Ridge Mountains are composed of igneous and metamorphic rocks. The southern end of the Shenandoah Valley contains also igneous rock outcrops, known as “mow hills” that are the remnants of ancient volcanoes. Most of the valley is underlain by sedimentary or metamorphic rocks that were originally sedimentary. Early Paleo-Indian Period (15,500 BC? – 10,000 BC) During the maximum extent of North America’s glaciers during the Pleistocene Geological Period, the Shenandoah Valley would have been similar in appearance to Lapland in northern Scandinavia today. Stunted conifers and birches were clustered around rivers and streams. The bottom of the valley was covered with mosses, grass and hardy shrubs. The mountains were snow-capped for much or all of the year. However, to date no evidence has been found of glaciers. The mountain slopes would have been permanently frozen, rocky and partially covered with moss. At the peak of glacial expanse, sea level was about 360 feet (120 meters) lower than today. Virginia might have extended another 100 miles to the east during that period. Animals typical of the arctic tundra, such as the musk ox and caribou, inhabited the region during the coldest part of the Ice Age. There were probably small bands of hunters in the Shenandoah Valley at this time, but no evidence has been found. For almost a century...

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