Early Shawnee history - Native Americans
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Early Shawnee History

Serpent mound
Serpent Mound (Ohio, about 500 BC?)

Shawnee people were related to the Algonquin and the Cree, and spoke a related language, but they lived a little further south, in the mid-west (modern Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky). Indeed, the word "Shawnee" may mean "south people". The Shawnee lived more like their neighbors than like their northern relatives. Starting about 700 BC, their Adena culture built big earth mounds for burial mounds, for religious reasons, and for their rulers.

By 200 AD, the Shawnee people's culture developed into the Hopewell culture. Shawnee people began to farm, growing mainly squash, sunflower seeds, and wild rice. But the Hopewell culture collapsed (we don't know why) about 400 AD.

Shawnee land map
Where the Shawnee lived

The Shawnee continued to live in the Midwest, and they kept on farming and building mounds. A little later than the Mississippians to their west, about 1000 AD, the Shawnee started to grow corn. By 1200 AD the Shawnee began to live in bigger villages, some with fortification walls.

Shawnee villages began to get even bigger about 1400 AD, getting up to about 500 people each. Shawnee people began to trade more with the Mississippians to their west, buying pottery, colanders, and some small statues from their neighbors. These villages lasted until the Shawnee started dying of measles and smallpox soon after 1500 AD.

The Shawnee after the European invasion

Bibliography and further reading about Shawnee history:

Later Shawnee history
Cherokee history
Mississippi history
More about Native Americans
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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.
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