A Brief History of Native American Development
The Bow, The Clay Pot, and Agriculture

by Crede Calhoun chief guide for Camp Earth and Owner of Windrush Online Art Gallery

Before the end of the last ice age over 10,000 years ago the large amounts of ice that had built up caused the seas to recede. This left a land bridge between Siberia in Russia and Alaska in North America. Across this land bridge early tribes that became North American Indians travelled in search of Mammoths and Buffalos. As more tribes crossed the bridge they spread out over the south and west North America. Over hundreds of years these people's spread out all over North and South America becoming numerous tribes from the Aztec in South America to the Iroquois in New York.

About 5,000 years before Christ, an Indian somewhere discovered the idea of of tying animal sinew to a bent piece of wood to make the first bow and arrow. The invention was one of the greatest achievements of early man and was as important as the discovery and the use of fire. With bow and arrow the hunter could more easily hunt animals for food and allowed early man to kill game from far away. Some evidence exists that bows are more than 50,000 years old

 
Ancient cave art showing a bow hunter.

The arrowheads that Native Americans made as the points for their arrows are very important objects that archaeologists use to learn more about the people that made the arrowheads. Different tribes made their points differently and archaeologists can tell what tribes used a particular area by the types of arrowheads they find there. Archaeologists often find several different types of arrowheads in one place. This tells them that different tribes inhabited the area at different times in history. Arrowheads are tricky to find. You have to look very carefully to spot them in the dirt. Farmers fields that get plowed, and that are near streams or rivers are good places to look.

The Friendsville Museum in Garrett County has a nice collection of arrowheads that were found at a site in town during an archaeological excavation completed before Interstate 68 was built. They found many different types of arrowheads some made by cultures that existed over 10.000 years ago. Sometimes these oldest arrowheads might have been passed down from father to son or traded for many generations, so finding old arrowhead points doesn't always mean that a particular people were in an area.

Approximately 1,500 years after the invention of the bow an Indian someone somewhere took some clay and fashioned the first bowl. This making of clay storage vessels was a huge discovery and helped Indian civilization to progress forward rapidly. The ability to store berries and other collected foods allowed early Indians to store food for eating later. This freed up time so they could learn new things.

The pottery pieces and pots left behind by these early Americans are also good sources for archaeologists to learn about the people that made them. Many tribes would decorate their containers in certain ways and some even had special shapes that archaeologist can use to identify the makers.


Southwest Indian pottery


Example of how pottery styles can date a tribes life

It was a habit of early Native Americans to move from one camp to another, like the Shawnee Indians who stayed in the Friendsville area for the summer hunting and fishing. Year after year they would drop uneaten seeds and each year they would return and see plants growing where their garbage piles were. They figured out that they could collect these seeds and plant them each year. It was the women that realized this and the concept of agriculture was born. They also figured out that certain of the biggest and best seeds produced the best plants and over years they figured out that they could selectively breed these especially hearty plants to get better varieties of foods. It was in this way that early Native Americans developed corn.

When the problems of having a constant food supply had been solved with agriculture, Native American Indians could turn to more interesting and creative activities like making beautiful things for each other. Just about all the tribes developed their own clothing and ways to decorate it. Often times the style of their dress would relate stories of their history and contain symbols of importance to a particular tribe of people. Clothing and shelters would be decorated with animal symbols or other symbols of meaning and significance.


Typical Shawnee Indian Clothing

Here is a map of Indian Tribes and the clothing they wore.

Native Americans developed their cultures over thousands of years. It is interesting to study the habits and lifestyles of a particular tribe to discover how they adapted to their environment. You might try learning about the tribes that lived in your area. Maybe there is even an old Indian settlement that has been excavated by archaeologists near your home. Learning about Indians can help us to understand what it must have been like to depend on Nature for all your needs. Many of these skills are lost but you can take the journey to discover old ways that have been lost. You might try making a bow, or a clay pot. Decorate it with the symbols that you find important to you. Give it try you'll find it lots of fun.