Mn/DOT logo MHS logo FHWA logo

The East Terrace Site
Early Minnesotans

Archaeologists divide the native cultures of Minnesota into four traditions:

The earliest is the Paleoindian (9000-5000 BC). Paleoindians made hide scrapers, knives, and finely crafted, tapered spear points, as well as other basic tools you would expect to find in an early hunter's tool kit. Evidence of the Paleoindian tradition at other North American sites suggests they hunted large game animals like mammoth, mastodon, and extinct species of large bison. They probably roamed across large open territories in their quest for food. We do not have many clues about the way they lived in Minnesota, since most of our evidence consists of isolated spear points found in plowed fields or along eroding banks of reservoirs. In rare instances, such as at East Terrace, spear points are found where they were lost or thrown away - and our knowledge of early Minnesotans grows.

As the climate changed and big game animals became scarcer, early Minnesotans began to consume a greater variety of resources, like small mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants. This marked the beginning of the Archaic period (5000-500 BC). Diversification in what Archaic people ate is reflected in the many different types of spear points, hide scrapers, knives, and grinding stones they used to hunt game, process animal skins, work wood, and prepare plant and animal foods. Some Archaic groups in the Great Lakes region even mined natural raw copper sources. They formed the nuggets into tools and spear points. This marks the earliest use of metal in the Americas and is the identifying signature of the Old Copper Culture. Populations seem to have grown during the Archaic period, but East Terrace remained a small and sporadically occupied camp site.

The Woodland tradition, separated into Initial (500 BC-AD 400) and Terminal (AD 400- 1700) periods, originated in the Illinois and Ohio River valleys and other areas to the south. It soon radiated northward and spread into Minnesota through its southeastern corner. The use of ceramics, the practice of burying the dead in earthen mounds, and an increased reliance on horticulture distinguish the Woodland peoples in our area from those who lived here before them. The bow and arrow came into use during this period, and long distance trade in items such as sea shell beads, sheet copper figures, and tools made of exotic stones reached its height.

As populations grew, Woodland peoples began using large storage caches and developed more permanent dwellings and settlements. During the latter part of this period, perhaps as early as AD 1000, the intensive harvesting of wild rice resulted in the establishment of large semi-permanent villages along shallow lakes and marshes in central and northern Minnesota. Some of these settlements were now occupied for much of the year, a change from the seasonal food harvesting visits of the earlier Archaic period.

In the last fifty years of the Woodland tradition, European explorers and missionaries, including Pierre Raddisson, Medard Chouart des Groseillers, Daniel Dulhut (Duluth), Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, Robert Cavelier de La Salle and Louis Hennepin, visited Dakota Indian villages in Minnesota. These contacts both documented and changed a rich culture that had existed for thousands of years. The movement of the Ojibwa into the state from the north and northeast at the end of Woodland times ushered in a period of conflict with the indigenous Dakota.


previous table of contents next


link to Cultural Resourceslink to Historic Bridgeslink to MN Archaeologylink to Shipwrecks


The 'Preserving Minnesota's Cultural Resources' web site is jointly sponsored by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) under Agreement No. 75077.


icon icon icon © 1997 Minnesota Historical Society
MHS Copyright and Use Information