Author: Bernard K. Means

instructor of anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University

Late Woodland Period (AD 900–1650)

The Late Woodland Period lasted from AD 900 until 1650. It was a time when Virginia Indian societies underwent important social and cultural transformations. It traditionally has been dated from the supposed widespread adoption of maize agriculture. During this period scattered populations consolidated into large villages and towns, occasionally fortified; they also built burial mounds or ossuaries (large burial pits) and developed into some of the most socially and politically complex groups on the Atlantic Coast. The period’s end date comes almost five decades after the establishment in 1607 of the English colony at Jamestown. The new settlement eventually upended Virginia Indian societies, including the once-powerful Powhatan Indians of Tsenacomoco. Written records by John Smith and other English colonists have helped modern historians reconstruct those early Indian cultures, especially those on Virginia’s Coastal Plain; however, because such records reflect the writers’ European biases, archaeological evidence is critical to a full understanding of Virginia Indians during this period. This is especially true for regions west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where earlier Indian cultures had vanished by the time English explorers and colonists had moved this far west.