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The Household Economy

A perennial scene, women at work in the field.

For several millenia prior to Mississippian adoption of maize agriculture, resource exploitation by midwestern Native American had become increasingly focused on the major river valleys (HDYK-ECON). With increasingly intensive exploitation of plant and animal resources villages grew in size and were occupied for longer and longer periods of the year. By the end of the Late Woodland period most villages were occupied year-round. Fishing and gathering of wild and cultivated plants on the floodplain were particularly important subsistence activities by the Late Woodland. Thus, during the Woodland period in Illinois the cycle of moving residential settlements seasonally to use resources at various spots on the landscape that had typified Native American subsistence for the previous 10,000 years gradually gave way to more permanent settlements and intensive exploitation of renewable resources.

Although a number of plants were cultivated thousands of years earlier during the Archaic Period in Illinois (notably marsh elder, goosefoot, squash, bottle gourd, and sunflower (HDYK-ECON), an expansion of intensive plant utilization occurred during the Woodland Period when people began to concentrate on floodplain resources.

Garden with Sunflower and Corn
Garden with Sunflower and Corn.

The result of this heavier reliance on floodplain plants producing starchy and oily seeds was an increase in the rate of cultivation. Additional plants cultivated by the Middle Woodland Period include knotweed, maygrass, little barley, and tobacco. By A.D. 850 (Emergent Mississippian), an economy based on crop cultivation and intensive use of wild plant and animals foods was apperently able to produce a significant and reliable food surplus.

Iva annua (marshelder).

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