Devin Henson

Reconsidering the Late Woodland: A Critical Reassessment of Perception and Periodization in the Ohio Valley, 400-1000 CE

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Devin A. Henson
Major: Archaeology
Minor: Earth Sciences
Advisors: Olivia C. Navarro-Farr, Siavash Samei (second reader)

The Late Woodland period in eastern North America has traditionally been conceptualized as a cultural hiatus between the region’s Hopewell and Mississippian traditions. As a drastic (though not complete) reduction in the practices of monumental architecture and art produced with nonlocal materials occurred during this time, the end of the preceding Hopewell tradition (and its related Interaction Sphere) has been depicted as a “collapse” or “devolution” by multiple researchers. However, the Late Woodland also saw a rise in population, intensification of agriculture, and technological innovation. Although the combination of these factors and the period’s architectural and artistic reduction appear contradictory, I argue that this contradiction stems from improper applications of evolutionist thought and outdated notions of cultural progress. The ways in which archaeologists (and the communities with whom they can interact) perceive this period in the chronology of the Eastern Woodlands must be reassessed. Through an examination of the connections between archaeological theory and the material record of the Late Woodland, I reconsider the period as a dynamic and crucial transition central to the history of the region.

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Devin will be online to field comments on April 16:
2-4pm EDT (PST: 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

48 thoughts on “Reconsidering the Late Woodland: A Critical Reassessment of Perception and Periodization in the Ohio Valley, 400-1000 CE”

  1. Congratulations, Devin, on the completion of your I.S. and your upcoming graduation!! I enjoyed having you in class in Scovel Hall and wish you the best as you start the next chapter in your life after Woo.

    1. Hello, Dr. Judge! Thank you very much for the well wishes. I greatly enjoyed having class with you, and I was glad to read that you were featured in The Chronicle recently!

      1. Congratulations Devin. Aunt Pat and I are very proud of your accomplishments. Uncle Paul

  2. Congratulations on a fascinating I.S, Devin! It’s been a pleasure watching you grow and thrive over your four years at Wooster!

    1. Thank you very much, Dr. Cosgriff! It’s been a pleasure to have been your student! If my memory serves me correctly, I seem to recall that you asked me about my IS topic in Islamic Art – the second semester of my first year at the College. After four years of suspense, here’s my topic for you!

  3. Congratulations, Devin – I have enjoyed conversations with you and what you bring to Wooster. Thanks for sharing your research with us, and good luck to you in all you do moving forward!

    1. Good to hear from you, Professor Karazsia, and thank you very much! I also greatly enjoyed the conversations we had, and I am most appreciative of the emphasis you placed on conversations such as those during your time as an administrator.

    1. Thank you, Caitlyn! I am most appreciative, and I wish you good luck throughout the rest of your time at Wooster!

    1. Thank you again, Dr. Samei! It was a pleasure getting to know you this year and an honor to have been your Intro to Archaeology TA last fall!

  4. Hi Devin, nice work! I’m interested in hearing more details about the “elaborate funerary programs, portable art, and nonlocal materials.” This might be a better question for a face-to-face conversation, but do you think you could describe some of these things in words so that I can get a better visual in my head? Also – any nonlocal Earth materials involved? (You knew I had to ask!)

    1. Hi, Dr. Pollock! Thanks so much! I would love to have a face-to-face conversation about these aspects of archaeology in the region (whenever is most convenient for you, of course!), but I can also provide brief descriptions here as well.

      To speak first to the funerary programs of the Late Woodland, the most elaborate practice was arguably the stone-capped mound of the early part of the period. Stone-capped mounds are a form of burial mound (typically earthen and circular in form) that are covered over with stone slabs. However, probably the most well-known funerary program of the Late Woodland was the practice of intrusive burial. Intrusive burials were graves dug into the burial mounds of earlier Adena-Hopewell peoples by a Late Woodland cultural group referred to by archaeologists in Ohio as the Intrusive Mound culture. The Intrusive Mound culture’s practice of interring their dead in the burial mounds of earlier groups shows that these people were making a deliberate choice to interact with the cultural constructions of aforementioned Adena-Hopwell peoples, suggesting some form of connection (or perceived connection) that the Intrusive Mound culture had with earlier cultural groups.

      While I use the term “portable art” with apprehension (as the projection of our understanding of what defines “art” on to these artifacts tells us little about how they would have been understood by those who created them), it does serve as an adequate form of shorthand. Many of the “art” objects of Late Woodland peoples are made of Earth materials! Groundstone pendants (such as those discussed in the poster above) are, as their name implies, made of stone that has been ground and polished into a specific form. Raw materials (such as banded slate) used in the production of these objects appear to have been deliberately chosen on basis of their quality and aesthetic value.

      While a number of nonlocal materials are associated with the Late Woodland period, a good specific example of a nonlocal Earth material is mica – which was procured from the Carolinas.

  5. Great work, Devin! I learned a lot and was fascinated by the topic. Best of luck to you for whatever comes next!

    1. Thanks, Matt! Glad to hear that you were fascinated by the topic. Best of luck to you as well!

  6. Hi Devin,
    I’m so impressed with your comprehensive and thoughtful work on this!
    It has been wonderful watching you grow in your scholarship over these years. I know you will continue to be thoughtful and mindful in both your theoretical approaches to the field as well as your practice.

    1. Hi, Professor Navarro-Farr! There is nothing I can say that can ever truly express how grateful I am for your mentorship. You have been my guiding light and role model for what it means to be a conscientious and socially-just archaeologist, and it is my hope I can honor the immense debt of gratitude I owe you through my work – both now and in the future.

  7. Congratulations, Devin! Thanks for sharing this interesting research. I’m curious what drew you to this topic. Could you share with us how you decided on the Late Woodland period as the focus of your research?

    1. Hi, Annie! Thanks for your well wishes and for taking the time to check out my project! I’d be glad to speak a bit about how I decided on the Late Woodland period as the focus of my research.

      First, I think it’s important to note that the Late Woodland period was not really my main area of study prior to beginning work on my IS project. I actually spent most of my time at Wooster focusing on the Early and Middle Woodland periods (which are known for the Adena and Hopewell, respectively). The Middle Woodland Hopewell tradition directly precedes the Late Woodland and, as such, its perceived “collapse” has been the focus of much scholarly attention. While the Late Woodland period has received some scholarly attention, its research has been dominated by attempts to understand its connection to the end of the Hopewell tradition. In other words, the Late Woodland has generally not been studied for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of understanding why the Hopewell tradition ended. This places the Late Woodland period in a precarious position, as it becomes immensely easy to construct a dichotomy where the Middle Woodland represents a “cultural peak” and the Late Woodland is seen as a “lesser” period in contrast. However, the Late Woodland is a period of multiple important transitions in the region. It saw the widespread adoption of maize agriculture, introduction of the bow and arrow, and increased sedentism (among other things). In not studying these aspects of the Late Woodland period and simply characterizing it as a “dark age,” we both ignore its vibrant and fascinating history and are undermined in our ability to have a comprehensive understanding of this region’s past. Upon becoming aware of just how undervalued the Late Woodland period has been throughout my studies over the past 1.5 years or so, I chose to focus on it for my IS because its rather negative reputation does little to adequately represent just how important this period is and why it is deserving of a much greater focus.

  8. So based on what I saw in your chart- I couldn’t tell (forgive me I’m not an archaeologist) did you determine if the Late Woodland was a collapse or improper application of thought & progress?

    Congratulations on your completed project and upcoming graduation! Proud of you, Devin!

    1. Hi, Lauren! Thanks for your question! It’s a super important one, especially as understanding this region’s past affects all of us who live here – not just the academic archaeological community! The Late Woodland period should NOT be considered a collapse (in fact, the whole concept of societal collapse is an exceptionally complex and dicey topic – but I’ll avoid going down that rabbit hole right now). The Late Woodland period was seen as a collapse because of the improper application of evolutionist thought and notions of progress that are now outdated. Because the theories of social evolution and progress that were first applied to the study of the period are outdated, a reevaluation of the period itself shows that its supposed status as a period of “collapse” is not theoretically or empirically supported.

      Thanks again, Lauren!!

  9. Congratulations Devin!! I can’t wait to read your I.S. Your passion for what you’ve studied is infectious and I’m so proud of this huge accomplishment, and the integrity you always bring along for the ride. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    1. Hi, Aunt Dianne!! Thank you very very much, and I’ll make sure you get a copy of my IS!

  10. Congratulations Devin, looks great!! How did you decide to research this particular topic for your IS work?

    1. Hey, Ian! Appreciate it! Regarding how I decided to research this particular topic for my IS work, Annie Dempsey asked a similar question above, so I would direct you to my response there! Thanks for your question!

  11. Devin, since I first started here at Wooster, I’ve looked up to you as a beacon of knowledge. Your IS project shows how truly capable you are. This is a fantastic representation of your academic abilities. I said this to Natalia too, but I think I can speak for ASC when I say we’re really proud of our co-president!

    1. Anabelle, thank you so much for your kind words. They truly mean the world to me! I’m proud of you, and I can’t wait to hear all about your IS next year!

  12. Congratulations Devin. Great way to represent the fam! Enjoy the next step in your journey.

  13. Congrats on completing I.S. Devin! It is interesting to read about how archaeological findings can be viewed as outdated and problematic due to the ideas that shaped them. Do you see this as something that has the potential to be a constant in the field as it evolves and new ideas emerge? Or are these misguided interpretations a result of early proto-archaeology and anthropology?

    1. Hi, Marloes! Thanks so much, and congrats to you as well! Your questions are excellent, and I’ll do my best to answer them below!

      I do think that the reevaluation of archaeological findings will (and should be) a constant in the field as new ideas and interpretations emerge. Theoretically, it is my view that archaeologists do not discover the past so much as we create it. Our interpretations are attempts to reconstruct a past that we will never personally experience. As such, our interpretations do not truly represent the past as it actually occurred. Rather, they are stories we create from our own perspectives in an attempt to approximate the past as we understand it. I believe that ongoing efforts to reevaluate and reinterpret are beneficial – as they help us to understand parts of narratives of the past that have been overemphasized, underemphasized, ignored, or even fabricated entirely. Regarding your second question, the misguided interpretations you mention above (and that I discuss in my IS) are absolutely rooted in early proto-archaeology and anthropology and their related social contexts. Knowing the history of these social contexts and the horrible impacts they had, it is even more imperative that we continue to reevaluate and reinterpret to safeguard against similar atrocities occurring in the present and future.

  14. Wow, way to go and congrats from all of us in NC, Dev!! Incredible work. You clearly worked very hard on this I.S. and should be so proud of all that you’ve learned and achieved in this area. Love that you’re bringing fresh perspective and examination to perceptions about this period! Excited to hear more. Enjoy this moment – you’ve certainly earned it!

    1. Hi, Aunt Jennie! Many thanks to you and the NC crew! I really appreciate your kind words and well wishes!

  15. Awesome job, Devin! We are so proud of you!! Curious to know if there was much of an archaeological record from the Late Woodland period in southwest Ohio. Looking forward to reading your paper and seeing you graduate in 3 weeks!! CONGRATULATIONS!

    1. Thank you both so very much. While there aren’t enough words in the world to express my gratitude, I never would have gotten to where I am today without all your love and support. I am looking forward to being home (albeit briefly) and celebrating with you soon!

      Regarding the archaeological record of southwest Ohio, there is plenty associated with the Late Woodland period! As an example, the Turpin Site (33HA28) is located near Newtown and includes both Late Woodland and Fort Ancient components. As such, it is a vitally important site for understanding the connections between these two times and cultural groups.

  16. Great work, Devin! I echo everything Anabelle said in her comment–thanks for being a great role model in the Archaeology Departement.

    Also, I’d be curious to know more about how you incorporated queer theory into your work. Was it because you were challenging normative assumptions about unilineal chronologies, or did some part of your IS specifically relate to marginalized perspectives (if so, which ones)?

    1. Hi, Olivia! First, thank you so much for your kind words! Regarding your curiosity about my incorporation of queer theory, I can speak a little to that. A large portion of the way in which I applied queer theory was to challenge normativity in unilineal chronologies, yes. As for marginalized perspectives, there were two ways in which I approached marginalization. The first was in discussion of the marginalization of Indigenous perspectives and immense erasure of Indigenous history that has taken place (and continues to take place) in what is now considered to be Ohio and how this relates to our archaeological understanding of this region’s past. The second way in which I approached marginalization was to demonstrate that the Late Woodland has been marginalized when compared to its bracketing periods. This allowed me to use the reflective principles of queer theory to guide my reevaluation of the period. A final way in which I used queer theory was to interrogate the validity of our classification schema for societies itself, but this was an area that I was not able to explore in great depth in my IS.

  17. Hi Devin–I was so fascinated to read about your important empirical and theoretical research. Thanks for sharing this with Wooster as we try to better understand our landscape and its history and peoples! I’d love to learn more about this project.

  18. Very impressed with your area of IS exploration and theory, Devin. As one who wished Archaeology was an option when I was at Woo and who has become increasingly more fascinated with North America’s archaeological evolution I was fascinated with your insights.

    Well Done! Looking forward to reading your PhD thesis.

    Rick Rider
    COW English Major, ‘72

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