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Paleo-Indian (10,000 BC - 2,000 BC). In the sequence of North American prehistoric cultural stages first proposed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips in 1958, the Lithic stage was the earliest period of human occupation in the Americas, occurring during the Late Pleistocene period, to time before 8,000 B.C. (before 10,000 years ago).[1] The stage derived its name from the first appearance of Lithic flaked stone tools. The time encompasses the Paleo-Indian period that subsequently is divided into more specific time terms such as Early Lithic stage or Early Paleo-Indians and Middle Paleo-Indians or Middle Lithic stage.[3] Examples include the Clovis culture and Folsom tradition groups.

Archaic Since (3500 2000 BCE). the 1990s, secure dating of multiple Middle Archaic sites in northern Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida have challenged traditional models of development, as hunter-gatherer societies in the Lower Mississippi Valley organized to build monumental mound complexes as early as 3500 BC (confirmed at Watson Brake), with building continuing over a period of 500 years. Such early mound sites as Frenchman's Bend and Hedgepeth were of this time period; all were localized societies. Watson Brake is now considered the oldest mound complex in the Americas,[5] preceding that built at Poverty Point (both are in northern Louisiana) by nearly 2,000 years. More than 100 sites have been identified as associated with the regional Poverty Point culture of the Late Archaic period, and it was part of a regional trading network across the Southeast. Across what is now the Southeastern United States, starting around 4000 BC, people exploited wetland resources, creating large shell middens. Middens developed along rivers, but there is limited evidence of Archaic peoples along coastlines prior to 3000 BC. Archaic sites on the coast may have been inundated by rising sea levels (one site in 15 to 20 feet of water off St. Lucie County, Florida has been dated to 2800 BC). Starting around 3000 BC evidence of large-scale exploitation of oysters appears. During the period 3000 BC to 1000 BC shell rings, large shell middens more or less surrounding open centers, developed along the coast of the Southeastern United States. These shell rings are numerous in South Carolina and Georgia, but are also found scattered around the Florida Peninsula and along the Gulf of Mexico coast as far west as the Pearl River. In some places, such as Horr's Island in Southwest Florida, resources were rich enough to support sizable mound-building communities year-round. Four shell and/or sand mounds on Horr's Island have been dated to between 4870 and 4270 Before Present (BP).

Formative (Early Preclassic. 2000 BC - 600 BC). Cultures of the Formative Stage are supposed to possess the technologies of pottery, weaving, and developed food production. Social organization is supposed to involve permanent towns and villages, as well as the first ceremonial centers. Ideologically, an early priestly class or theocracy is often present or in development. Examples of cultures considered to be Formative include the Adena, Olmec, Old Copper, Oasisamerica, Woodland, and Mississippian cultures.

Late Preclassic (Colonization to Christ. 600 BC - 33 AD). One of the great cultural milestones that marked the Middle Preclassic period is the development of the first writing system, by either the Maya, the Olmec, or the Zapotec. During this period, the Mesoamerican societies were highly stratified. The connections between different centers of power permitted the rise of regional elites that controlled natural resources and peasant labor. This social differentiation was based on the possession of certain technical knowledge, such as astronomy, writing, and commerce. Furthermore, the Middle Preclassic period saw the beginnings of the process of urbanization that would come to define the societies of the Classic period..

Classic (Christ to Epogee. 0 AD - 900 AD). The Classic Era was dominated by numerous independent city-states in the Maya region and also featured the beginnings of political unity in central Mexico and the Yucatan. Regional differences between cultures grew more manifest. The city-state of Teotihuacan dominated the Valley of Mexico until the early 8th century, but we know little of the political structure of the region because the Teotihuacanos left no written records. The city-state of Monte Alban dominated the Valley of Oaxaca until the late Classic, leaving limited records in their mostly undeciphered script. Highly sophisticated arts such as stuccowork, architecture, sculptural reliefs, mural painting, pottery, and lapidary developed and spread during the Classic era. In the Maya region, numerous city states such as Tikal, Calakmul, Copan, Palenque, Uxmal, Coba, and Caracol reached their zeniths. Each of these polities was generally independent, although they often formed alliances and sometimes became vassal states of each other. The main conflict during this period was between Tikal and Calakmul, who fought a series of wars over the course of more than half a millennium. Each of these states declined during the Terminal Classic and were eventually abandoned.

Postclassic (Cultural Collapse. 900-1200 AD). Cultures of the Classic Stage are supposed to possess craft specialization and the beginnings of metallurgy. Social organization is supposed to involve the beginnings of urbanism and large ceremonial centers. Ideologically, Classic cultures should have a developed theocracy. The "Classic Stage" was initially defined as restricted to the complex societies of Mesoamerica and Peru. However, the time period includes other advanced cultures, such as Hopewell, Teotihuacan, and the early Maya.

Collapse to Conquest (Post Book of Mormon 1200 - 1519 AD). Cultures of the Post-Classic Stage are defined distinctly by possessing developed metallurgy. Social organization is supposed to involve complex urbanism and militarism. Ideologically, Post-Classic cultures are described as showing a tendency towards the secularization of society.

Examples of cultures considered to be Post-Classic include the Aztecs and the late Maya.

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