North American Archaeology Explorer
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Paleo-Indian (13,000 BC - 2,000 BC). Following the sequence of North American prehistoric cultural stages first proposed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips in 1958, the Paleo Indian stage was the earliest period of significant human occupation in the Americas, occurring during the Late Pleistocene period, to time before 8,000 B.C. (before 10,000 years ago). Examples include the Clovis culture and Folsom tradition groups, often thought to have centered in the US Southwest and Northwest Mexico, but quickly spreading eastward. Nearly all sites are primitive composed of only lithics, rock shelters and art. With some sophistry shown in clothing, shoes and jewlry.

Archaic (4500 - 1500 BCE). Hunter-gatherer societies in the Lower Mississippi Valley and elsewhere organize 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, 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 mostly across the Southeast.

Formative (Early Preclassic. 2000 BC - 600 BC). The Formative of North America sees major changes in technologies of pottery, architecture, and developed food production. During the formative, early social stratification and technology begin to apear in both Mexico and Eastern North America. Examples of cultures considered to be Formative include the Adena, Olmec, Old Copper, Oasisamerica, Woodland, and Mississippian cultures.

Late Preclassic (Late Preclassic 600 BC - 33 AD). One of the great cultural milestones that marked the Middle Preclassic period is the appearance of the first complex glyphic writing system, by the Zapotec followed by the Olmec & Maya. During this period, the Mesoamerican societies as well as the Adena in Ohio become highly stratified and technologically advanced. 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 (Classic 0 AD - 900 AD). The Classic Era was dominated by numerous independent city-states in the Maya region and central Mexico as well as beginning in the American Southwest Puebloans and Ohio & Mississippi valley Hopewells. 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.

Post classic ( 900 - 1200 AD). In Mexico the post classic begins after the collapse of Teotihuacan and the Maya paving the way for the rapid rise of the Toltecs who dominate from areas of the Yucatan to Northwest Mexico (although centered just north of Mexico City). Meanwhile, in the United States, the post classic sees the rise and fall of the Ancient Puebloan culture in the Southwest (see Chacoan phenomena). This is followed by the same pattern of rapid growth then depopulation among the Cohakia and sourrounding Mississippian cultures.

Conquest (1400 - 1600 AD). Includes cultures existing at or near the time of the Colonial Conquest. Outside of the Aztec empire, colonial records of these settlments tend to be sparse, and archaeological investigations often miss them entirely. Many were decimated by smallpox and other deseases brought by explorers but were never recorded. Examples of complex cultures extant at the conquest include the Aztecs, the late Maya, a few large southwest settlments and a number of Mississippian settlements.

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