Not Just a Hunting Ground: Native Americans in Kentucky- Archaic Period

Archaic Period 8,000- 1,000 B.C.


Like their Paleoindian ancestors, Archaic peoples were nomadic hunter-gatherers, although the foods they are were different. Archaic peoples hunted white-tailed deer, small animals, birds, and fish. Their diet also included hickory nuts, fruit, and seeds. Toward the end of the Archaic period, people began to experiment with growing their own plant foods. Differences in cultural traditions appear at this time. Despite this diversity, Archaic peoples continued their ancestors’ tradition of living in small family groups. Several groups would join together annually to court, share food, trade and entertain. Few social distinctions existed, other than those based on age, sex, and personal abilities. 


Archaic peoples camped in the open near streams and lived in rock shelters. Home territories were smaller than in Paleoindian times and sometimes overlapped.

Archaic peoples had a very high infant mortality rate. The average life span for an adult was about 60 years. All Archaic people had abscessed teeth. That’s because food processing on 
sandstone grinding slabs introduced large amounts of grit into their diet. This grit quickly wore down their teeth. They also suffered from arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. 


During the Archaic Period, several new technologies appeared: Hunters used the atlatl to increase the power and distance of their spears. Women used hand-held pestles to  crack nuts on pitted sandstone slabs. Axes made from hard, dense rocks like granite were used for chopping wood. Weavers made items from plant fibers including mats, bags, and fish nets. Baskets
were twined, coiled or plaited. 

Long distance exchange began toward the end of the Archaic Period in some Kentucky regions. Groups traded ornaments made from marine shell, copper, or nonlocal stone. 

Download the PDF at the bottom to see the actual exhibit panel!

PDF icon Archaic.pdf1.88 MB