First People: The Early Indians of Virginia
   
Paleoindians 15,0008,000 B.C.                                
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  Most scientists think that the first people entered the Western Hemisphere from Asia over land that connected Siberia and Alaska at the end of the last great Ice (or Pleistocene) Age.  Huge glaciers more than a mile thick covered large areas of land in what is now Canada.  The glaciers lowered the sea level by 300 feet, exposing an immense, 1,000-mile-wide plain between Siberia and Alaska known as Beringia.  Especially along the coast, the tundra-like plain teemed with animal and plant life, and the ocean provided abundant marine life.  The early immigrants were unaware they entered a new continent as they hunted Beringia's game and gathered plants for food. 

When did the first people arrive and what was their culture like?  While Native Americans believe that they have always been here, the first documented Paleoindian culture was found at an archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico, in 1927.  There, a distinctive spear point was found between the ribs of a type of bison that had been extinct since the end of the last Ice Age.  Five years later near Clovis, New Mexico, a woolly mammoth kill and associated stone tools were uncovered, dating to 11,200 years ago.  The hallmark of the Clovis culture is the lance-shaped fluted point.  Although Clovis  points are found across the continent, an especially large number of them are found in Virginia.  Other stone tools found with the Clovis point include scrapers, gravers, perforators, wedges, and  knives.  Evidence uncovered so far in Virginia suggests that these tools were used to spear game, cut up meat, scrape and cut hides, and split and carve bone of deer, bison, and rabbit.  Caribou, elk, moose, and possibly mastodon also may have been hunted.

The effects of the glaciers made for long, hard winters and short, cool summers.  In the Appalachian region, the mountain slopes were bare and tundra-like.  People in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Virginia lived among grasslands, open forests of conifers, such as pine, fir, spruce, and hemlock, and occasional islands of deciduous trees.  Slightly warmer weather south of present-day Richmond encouraged the growth of more deciduous trees such as birch, beech, and oak.

The first people lived in groups which anthropologists today call bands, and camped along streams that flowed through the tundra-like grasslands and the open spruce, pine, and fir forests that covered Virginia at that time. A band was like an extended family.  Due to the harsh climate, each band moved seasonally within a set territory to hunt and forage.  

Click image to enlarge
 
Asian peoples entered North America through Beringia and traveled south along a corridor between glaciers.  Shaded areas indicate land then above sea level.  The large white masses are the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets.  (Credit: Tellico Archaeology)

 

 


 The lance-shaped fluted Clovis point

 

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Early Hunters
Paleoindians 15,0008,000 B.C.
Early Archaic 8,0006,000 B.C.

Dispersed Foragers
Middle Archaic 6,0002,500 B.C.

Sedentary Foragers
Late Archaic 2,5001,200 B.C.
Early Woodland 1,200500 B.C.
Middle Woodland 500 B.C.A.D. 900

Farmers
Late Woodland A.D. 9001600

European Contact
Indians A.D. 16001800
Modern Indians A.D. 1800Present
  
     

First People: The Early Indians of VirginiaIntroduction

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