Native American Architecture - What kind of houses did people live in?
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Native American Architecture

What kind of house you lived in depended a lot on where you lived, and how you lived. Many people were nomadic, travelling around with their dogs following the buffalo they hunted on the Great Plains. These people lived mainly in tipis, which were very large tents made of long wooden poles covered with buffalo skin. The Inuit, living in Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland, built their houses of driftwood and covered them with dirt, or lived in igloos.

Other people, who were farmers or fishermen in places where there was plenty of wood, lived in wooden houses, either of planks, or built with pole frames and then covered with slabs of bark. Iroquois people lived in longhouses built of poles and covered with bark, while Chinook people lived in longhouses built of cedar planks.

Algonquin people, north of the Iroquois, lived in wigwams, also built of poles covered with bark. Cherokee people, further south, lived in wattle-and-daub houses built of clay and wood and roofed with thatch.


Ute people, from modern Utah and Colorado, lived in wickiups which were also built of poles and covered with branches, but they were much smaller and more temporary than the Iroquois longhouses. Navajo people lived in similar houses called hogans.

In the Southwest, though, there was not very much wood. People built their houses out of clay, because there was plenty of clay. These clay houses are called pueblos (poo-EBB-lows).
People also built bigger buildings to be tombs or temples or meeting halls. In the Great Plains (modern Kansas), people built big meeting halls, and fortification walls around their town. Along the Mississippi River, people built big mounds of earth, which were tombs for their leaders, like the Egyptian pyramids.

More about Cherokee architecture

Bibliography and further reading about early North American architecture:

Navajo architecture
Ute architecture
Cherokee architecture
Iroquois architecture
American Architecture after Europeans invaded
Native Americans
South and Central Americans home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 23 April, 2017