Louisiana Prehistory

Second Edition May 1993

Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism

Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission

Robert W. Neuman

Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University

Nancy W. Hawkins

Division of Archaeology

Editors Note

Louisiana's cultural heritage dates back to approximately 10,000 B.C. when people first entered this region. Since that time, many Indian groups have settled here. Each of these groups has left evidence of its presence in the archaeological record. The Anthropological Study series published by the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism provides a readable account of various activities of these cultural groups.

Robert W. Neuman, Curator of Anthropology at the Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, and Nancy W. Hawkins, outreach coordinator for the State Division of Archaeology, co-authored this volume. It is the result of the realization that relatively few Louisiana residents are aware of the state's rich archaeological heritage. Furthermore, there is little introductory information available to them about Louisiana's past. Louisiana Prehistory was written to meet this need. It is a short summary of the state's prehistory and is meant to be a person's first exposure to the state's prehistoric archaeology. For this reason theoretical and technical discussions are kept at a minimum.

Replica of a Mississippian effigy pipe

Louisiana Prehistory tells the story of human occupation of the state during its first 12,000 years. It begins with the big game hunters of 10,000 B.C. and describes the changing life styles brought about by the end of the Ice Age. It relates the influences of various peoples moving into and out of Louisiana and their effects on Louisiana cultures. Finally it recounts the development of mound building which culminated in the large ceremonial centers described by the early European explorers.

I trust that the reader will enjoy this introduction to Louisiana's prehistoric Indian heritage.

Kathleen Byrd
State Archaeologist


Although many individuals have contributed to the development of this volume, special appreciation goes to Dr. Clarence H. Webb who allowed us to photograph artifacts from his private collection. Mr. David R. Jeane and Mrs. Marion McMichael also loaned artifacts for the illustrations. Mr. George A. Foster, Chairman of the Board of Guaranty Corporation, assisted us greatly by providing photographs of drawings from the Corporation's Indian display. We also thank Dr. Judith A. Schiebout, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, who provided continuous cooperation in the development of this project, and Mr. Daniel S. Peace for his efforts in photographing the artifacts used in this booklet.

Tens of thousands of years ago, when the world was in the midst of the Ice Age, the first humans made their way into North America. At that time, thick sheets of ice covering the polar regions had tied up so much of the earth's water that the oceans were approximately 400 feet lower than they are today. All around the world, sections of land that are now underwater were then above sea level. An extensive land bridge connected Siberia to Alaska across what is now the Bering Strait, and people from Asia used this route for their passage into North America.

The land bridge between the two continents was clear of ice for thousands of years, and vegetation from both sides intermixed. Grazing animals, and the people who hunted them, gradually wandered from Asia into North America, probably without ever realizing they were moving into a new region.

Although the earliest immigrants may have reached North America over 40,000 years ago, most of the present evidence dates from between 23,000 and 8,000 years ago.

Much of Canada was covered with ice during this time, but periodically, ice-free corridors of land connected Alaska with the Great Plains of the United States. Over hundreds of generations, nomadic people spread throughout southern North America, Central America, and South America. By 12,000 years ago, the first Indians lived in the southeastern United States. The prehistoric era in Louisiana begins with these first inhabitants and concludes with the arrival of the Europeans. The chart above outlines the long, rich prehistory of Louisiana.