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By 5,000 years BP, a global cooling trend caused a major retraction of vegetation communities to their modern locations and halted rising sea levels. The wetlands of the Southeast stabilized at this time and would slowly develop into our present wetland communities. The cooling trend would culminate in a period known as the Little Ice Age, 600 to 120 years BP (1400 to 1880). This event caused a minor retraction and set the stage for modern plant assemblages (Davis 1983).
Oak and pine were dominant over most of the Southeast, due mainly to human activities and other natural disturbances. Native burning regimes increased populations, and native agriculture began to shape the landscape witnessed by the first Europeans.
Following the high temperatures of the hypsithermal, global cooling and the trend toward stable vegetation communities also created a cultural change in the Southeast. This archaeological period is known as the Late Archaic Period (5,000 to 2,800 years BP). The climate and vegetation were similar to their modern equivalents. Population markedly increased and settlements stabilized. As riverine ecosystems reached modern stability, settlements became closely tied to these areas. Mussel gathering and fishing increased, while hunting and gathering followed earlier patterns. There was a great increase in material culture associated with the sedentary way of life. Large steatite and sandstone bowls, increased chipped-stone, ground stone, bone and antler implements, and personal ornaments indicate a developing culture (Goodyear and others 1979, Hudson 1976, Walthall 1980). The bow and arrow were introduced to the Southeast from the Midwest, and even though it did not change subsistence activities, it was a technological advance. Around 4,500 years BP the first pottery appears. It was invented in Florida and South Carolina at about the same time. The invention of pottery reflects the trend away from a more nomadic culture.
A Late Archaic culture known as the Savannah River culture dominated most of the Southeast. What is important about this culture is the increased utilization of floodplains throughout the region. Fire continued to be used to attract or drive game; and after 4,500 years BP, fire was applied to clear floodplain vegetation. Pollen cores taken at a variety of sites in the Southeast indicate increased wood charcoal and early successional herbaceous and tree species (Delcourt and Delcourt 1985). Annual clearing of floodplains was necessary to cultivate important plants, such as squash, gourds, sunflower, sumpweed, and chenopodium (Hudson 1976). Floodplains were cleared to accommodate growing native settlements. Extensive areas of open land, a defensive scheme for protection from unfriendly tribes, surrounded expanded settlements. Higher populations required more firewood, increasing demands on surrounding forests and further enlarging forest clearings.
Larger populations are associated with an increase in social and political structure. These processes culminated in a new cultural period, the Woodland period.
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