NEWBERRY — Jim Errante’s job is to do survey level investigations on sites — pioneer homes, prehistoric village sites, human burial sites and battlefield entrenchments and the like — to determine the cultural resources from that specific site.
These nonrenewable resources often yield unique information about past societies and environments, and provide answers for modern day social and conservation problems. Although many have been discovered and protected, there are numerous forgotten, undiscovered, or unprotected cultural resources in rural America.
Errante, the Cultural Resources specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in both North Carolina and South Carolina, stopped by the S.C. Conservation District Employee Association Conference last week to discuss the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian periods as they specifically relate to the present day southeast.
Before discussing the four periods, Errante said the theory of who the first people were in North America is a controversial subject.
“We do not think these people we have evidence of, who were here maybe 20,000 or 40,000 B.C., were able to make changes and exist to today. Folks who came about 10,000 B.C., we are pretty sure most of those groups were able to maintain and survive until today,” Errante said.
A handful of sites, one of which is at the Savannah River, exists where artifacts not quite like Paleo Period artifacts have been found, such as blade tools and long narrow blades called microblades.
“They never found any arrowheads, or what archaeologists call projectile points, but they found a lot of these microblades and a lot of rocks that were obviously utilized for making stone tools,” Errante said. “That was the kind of artifacts that are associated with these early populations, and have been found in other places across the country. Most of these sites that have been found date to 20,000 or 40,000 B.C., and are associated with cave sites, cave dwellings.”
The most commonly accepted theory is that people came here during the Paleo Period, roughly around 10,000 B.C., across the Bering Strait area.
“We believe that a lot of them were probably doing maritime subsistence, basically eating a lot of fish. Also during that time period, it was very cold obviously, lots of tundra, some icebergs, things of that nature,” Errante said. “A lot of ice, lot of smaller plants, but big animals, what we call megafauna animals, mastodons, woolly mammoths, crazy stuff like that.”
The people of this time period would either stick to the coast lines or hunt the megafauna.
“Unfortunately, a lot of folks sticking to maritime subsistence were living in the coastal area,” he said. “This is during the Ice Age so the water is still a good ways out there. As things warmed up, those sites got inundated and washed away, so we do not have a lot of good evidence of the ones sticking to the coastal environments, but the inland folks who were hunting, we have a lot of evidence of them.”
Those who hunted megafauna would have to stab the animals because spears would most likely bounce off them. According to Errante, the cool weapons they found were Clovis points that could be put in hollow spears. This would allow the hunters to stab the megafauna and then reload their weapon.
Groups would use as much of the megafauna as they could, for both food and shelter. However, Errante said they probably could not use all the animal because they had to follow their food supply, which was the herd.
The Archaic Period begins around 8,000 B.C. and ends around 3,000 B.C. and as the environment started warming up, larger groups began forming and traveling around, being less nomadic.
“The environment allowed this more than anything — bigger trees, a lot more animals around, the megafauna animals die out and now they are hunting deer, collecting nuts and a lot more plant life is involved,” Errante said.
People no longer use Clovis points and the tool kits become varied based on region. One tool that is seen during this time period is a atlatl, which is basically a spear thrower. This gave hunters the leverage to throw back the spear, which could be deadly accurate.
Groups probably stayed in one spot for one to three months at most then would move to another area when their resources were depleted.
“They would cross paths with other groups of people, but would keep their territories separate,” Errante said.
As the environment began to get warmer, and the coastal environment moved in to about where it is today, shellfish came into play. Errante said the coastal environment then became a focal point.
“Pottery becomes big around this time, when utilized for shellfish. I think it has to do with processing shellfish. South Carolina got some really neat shell sites. A lot of tribes started these shell rings,” he said. “They would process a lot of shells in the center of these things, and throw the shells out on the side.”
Errante said pottery showed up first in the southeast then moved across the country. This changed the ability to store food and water, kept things cooler and preserved food longer. It also allowed groups to stay in one area longer.
Groups started experimenting with different foods, like squash, and learned how to reproduce these foods, which also allowed them to stay in one spot longer.
This period began around 3,000 B.C. and ended around 100 A.D. People started experimenting with food groups, tribes become hierarchical and groups begin to grow larger.
“There were still a lot of them hunting and gathering, but some of them settle down, grow their own food, start moving into river valleys a little bit more, living in the same area longer,” Errante said.
Pottery is also becoming cultural. Researchers can identify specific cultures and groups, not just from design pattern, but how they made the pottery. For example, in one South Carolina region they would put Spanish Moss in their pottery. The patterns would become more refined and more complicated as well.
This period was from 100 A.D. until the mid 1400 and sees the beginning of city states, big towns, lots of tribes and big groups moving into the river areas. Technology also starts to develop more.
“One of the neat technologies that gave them the ability to drill holes in things was called a pump drill,” Errante said.
They also learned to utilize lithic technology, which gave them the ability to sharpen the edges of rocks.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.