Middle and Late Woodland Period village

The Middle and Late Woodland Period, 2,100 to 400 years ago

Garden farming became common in Middle Woodland times when the focus was on seed plants that included lambs quarter, knotweed, little barley and squash. Gardens became larger and corn was added to the subsistence system. Eventually, along with beans, corn became the dominant food source and contributed up to 75 percent of the diet. A variety of other wild plants and animals were also eaten. Corn, beans and squash, “the three sisters,” became the main foods by the end of this period. Native Americans lived in villages of a hundred or more people. The type of farming they practiced is called swidden or “slash and burn” agriculture. This involved clearing the forest by burning down trees and planting crops in their ashes. They did not have fertilizers and within five years the nutrients in the soils were depleted, requiring clearing of new fields. Within fifteen years, all the fields near the village were depleted and the entire village was moved. Swidden farming required constant planning, clearing of new fields and eventually building new villages. To organize the labor force for swidden farming, Native Americans lived in tribes that were subdivided into clans formed by tracing their ancestors through male (patrilineal) relatives or through female (matrilineal) relatives.

Read more about the Middle and Late Woodland Period diet at This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology.