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Archaeology in Missouri

Missouri Archaeological Chronology and History

Almost all Native American sites in Missouri pre-date 1800. Site age is determined mainly by radiocarbon dating of charcoal or bone. Euro-American and African-American sites date after 1800 and are dated by coins, tombstone inscriptions, or maker marks on bottles. Missouri archaeology time periods start with the Pre-Clovis period and end with the Historic period.

The prehistory of Missouri is divided into four broad stages (Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian), each of which is subdivided into three subperiods (Early, Middle, and Late) of a few thousand to several hundred years of time. Archaeologists always attempt to place their discoveries within a chronological framework to indicate artifact ages.

Pre-Clovis Period (20,000–11,500 B.P.)

Some archaeologists accept this period and point to the Shriver site in Daviess County as evidence for a stone tool technology that pre-dates Clovis point tool technology. Other archaeologists question if the Daviess site has been correctly dated and interpreted.

Paleoindian Period (11,500–9,900 B.P.)

Paleoindian Points

Left: Clovis, Right: Folsom

This period is associated with fluted points. In Missouri, Clovis and Folsom fluted points have been discovered at a variety of sites. Clovis points were found at the Kimmswick site (Mastodon State Historic Site) associated with mastodons, which were forest-dwelling browsers very distantly related to elephants. Elephants, mammoths and mastodons are all within the Order Proboscidae. Read an article about a Clovis site.The Dalton point is ubiquitous in the later portion of the Paleoindian period (10,500-9,900 B.P.). Read an article about Dalton sites.

Early Archaic Period (9,900–7,500 B.P.)

Early Archaic Points

Left: Graham Cave, Middle: Rice Lanceolate, Right: Thebes

This period is indicated by the introduction of many new shapes and forms of stone tools including the Graham Cave side notched, Hidden Valley stemmed, Rice lobed, Rice contracting stemmed, Rice lanceolates, and St. Charles notched.



Middle Archaic Period (7,500–5,000 B.P.)

Middle Archaic Points

Top-left: Godar, Top-right: Jakie Stemmed, Bottom-left: Stone Square Stemmed, Bottom-middle: Big Sandy, Bottom-right: Rice Lanceolate

This period coincides with warm and dry climatic conditions. Evidence indicates that prairies expanded at the expense of the forested regions. Deer herds may have decreased, and the Middle Archaic diet included greater amounts of birds, fish and rabbits. Tool technologies associated with this period include the Jakie stemmed, Big Sandy, and a variety of groundstone axes called full grooved. Read an article about a Middle Archaic site.




Late Archaic Period (5,000–3,000 B.P.)

Late Archaic Period

Top-left: Table Rock Stemmed, Top-Middle: Sedalia, Bottom-left: Nebo Hill, Bottom-middle: Basal Smith Notched, Right: Etley

This period is associated with climate change that brought the return of forest species (plant and animal) to areas where prairie species had penetrated during the Middle Archaic . A variety of new tool types (Nebo Hill lanceolate, Sedalia lanceolates, Smith basal notched, Table Rock stemmed, Stone square stemmed, Big Sandy notched, Etley, and Afton points) appear during this period. Three-quarter-grooved groundstone axes are another technological hallmark.

The Late Archaic is the first time pottery vessels were manufactured; pottery would not become commonplace for another 1,000 years. This period marks the first documented use of domesticated plants: squash (Cucurbita pepo) and bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria).

Social changes occurred during the Late Archaic period, as reflected by the first large village sites and elaborate burial rituals. The Hatten mound, constructed in northeast Missouri during the Late Archaic, is the oldest documented burial mound in the state. Different burial patterns and variations in stone tools reflect three or four distinct Missouri tribes. Read an article about a Late Archaic site.

Early Woodland Period (3,000–2,500 B.P.)

Early Woodland Points

Left: Langtry, Right: Kramer

This time period saw a continuity of tool technology for some of the Native American cultures, but also innovation and change for others. One of the few changes in technology occurred in the northern half of the state where Black Sand incised ceramics have been identified.


Middle Woodland Period (2,500–1,600 B.P.)

Middle Woodland Points

Left: Gibson, Top-right: Manker, Right: Snyders

Widespread changes in this time period are linked to technological and social changes which also occurred in Illinois and Ohio. New stone tool types include Snyders, Mankers, Ensor, Castroville, Frio, Gary, and Dickson. Pottery produced during this period was often tempered with grit (crushed gravel) or grog (recycled pottery pieces). Some of the pottery is decorated with designs created by stamped designs, cord-wrapped impressions, small hollow-reed impressions, incised lines, and bosses. Clay was used for both pottery, and small figurines depicting human and animal forms. Read an article about Middle Woodland sites: Article 1 or Article 2.

Late Woodland Period (1,600–1,000 B.P.)


This time period appears almost as a decline in terms of pottery decoration and design. A significant change in the tool technology is reflected by arrow points. Variations in pottery styles, burial practices, and stone tools may reflect eight or nine distinct Missouri tribes. Read an article about Late Woodland Patrick-phase sites or about Late Woodland/Mississippian sites.

Mississippian Period (1,000–400 B.P.)

Mississippian Points

Left: Triangular, Right: Reed Side Notched

This time period is marked by large permanent villages where populations relied upon the cultivation of corn as a major component of their diet. A handful of villages grew in population and wealth until they became large, fortified towns with impressive temple mounds, plazas, and astronomical observatories.

Technology during this period included shell-tempered pottery and small triangular arrow points. A few elite individuals possessed embossed copper plates and conch shells from the Gulf Coast.

The powerful towns and hundreds of villages and hamlets declined during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. New populations with distinctive pottery and stone tool technology immigrated into Missouri during the fourteenth century. Termed Oneota culture by archaeologists, the new population identified themselves as the Wah-Sha-She and Niutachi. Today, they are known by the names Osage and Missouri. Read an article about a Mississippian site.

Protohistoric Period (400–200 B.P.)

This period is marked by the arrival of new immigrant groups, including Native American tribes (Kickapoo, Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Peoria, Potawatomies), European Americans (French, Spanish, and English) and African Americans (free and slave). The Euro-Americans created settlements at Fort Orleans, Ste. Genevieve, St. Louis, and St. Charles. Treaties signed in 1808 and 1825 resulted in the migration of the Osage from Missouri to Kansas, and eventually to Oklahoma. In 1820, Missouri was admitted as a slave-holding state to the United States of America.

Flintlock rifles were used for hunting and defense. Copper and iron kettles were used for cooking. Imported china and glass bottles were rare.

Historic Period (200 B.P.–present)

Read an article about a Civil War site.

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