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Prehistory is defined as the period before the development of written records. The first written records associated with Ohio come from the mid-1600s, and this is considered the beginning of the historic period in this region. The Prehistoric Era in Ohio is divided into four periods: The Paleo-
Indian Period (12,000-7,000 B.C.); The Archaic Period (8,000-500 B.C.); The Woodland Period (1,000 B.C.-A.D. 1,000); and the Late Prehistoric Period (A.D. 900-1,650). For more on Ohio Prehistory
Paleoindian 13,000 - 8000 BC
Although popular depictions of the Ice Age often depict the world as an endless icy wasteland, most regions were green and populated by diverse flora and fauna. This included many species that are now extinct or no longer reside in the same areas. “Megafauna” such as mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, giant armadillos, short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, and giant beavers thrived on the land. Paleoindians hunted many of these species using a spear and atlatl.
Although glaciers blocked human and animal migration in some regions, the Pleistocene world was not one composed entirely of ice and snow. Plant and animal life thrived even in the far North where ocean and air currents left some areas unglaciated. A land bridge, known as Beringia, connected Asia and North America and this ice-free tundra may have served as a migration route for the earliest Americans. Archaeologists no longer agree on how, where or when humans first entered the continent, but the traditional interpretation is that they crossed through Beringia into Alaska sometime around 15,000 years ago. The discovery of new sites and other new sources of information in the past decade have led many archaeologists to question this long-held interpretation. One hypothesis that has been gaining support in recent years is the suggestion that the earliest Americans traveled from Siberia to western North America by boats along the ancient coastline. Other more controversial hypotheses include travel from Europe to eastern North America by watercraft or on pack-ice. The peopling of the Americas is currently one of the most controversial and dynamic topics within the professional archaeological community.
Paleoindians were hunter-gatherers, as were all people in the world at this time. They hunted megafauna, but also hunted many other species that we still find in North America today, including deer, caribou, and small game. In addition to hunting, they may have spent even more time gathering wild foods, such as fruit, nuts, roots, and other edible plant foods. They lived in small groups of less than fifty, with kinship playing a substantial role in social organization. A hunting and gathering economy usually requires people to remain mobile throughout the year, moving every few weeks or months to exploit resources in other areas. Consequently, Paleoindians did not build permanent settlements, though they likely returned to many of the same camp sites each year in a predictable cycle.
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