Late Woodland (1,200 – 350 years ago)


Most Late Woodland habitation sites, in contrast to earlier settlements, represent single-components. This is a consequence of the Indians’ selection of locations, motivated by two factors: the requirements and possibilities of an agricultural economy, and the need for defense against hostile neighbors. Thus, most sites are well back from major streams, generally near small creeks and brooks, and on high hills and knolls. 1

The transition to the Late Woodland Period is marked by the introduction of such domesticated plants as corn, (maize) beans, squash, and tobacco. These plants were first domesticated in Central America and gradually found their way into the Northeast. Plant domestication, as we have seen, had been practiced widely long before these more familiar plants arrived. In spite of their understanding of plant domestication, the people on Long Island were slow to adopt corn horticulture. They were doing fine without it.

In fact, there has been no evidence of maize cultivation found in any of the sites excavated in the Town of East Hampton. We do know, however, that by 1648 when the Montauketts negotiated the first deed to land in East Hampton, the Indians were growing corn because they asked for twenty-four hoes, among the other goods, in exchange for the land.2


Our fundamental classification of Late Woodland sites includes the following:

  1. Villages; two or more houses (semipermanent occupation)
    a. Undefended
    b. Palisaded ( A continuous wall or fence of stakes, especially for defense. )
  2. Hamlets; usually one house (semipermanent occupation)
  3. Camps, recurrent (spring-summer fishing stations)
  4. Camps, temporary (fall-winter hunting posts)
  5. Ceremonial dumps
  6. Cemeteries and Ossuaries
  7. Workshops

Village Settlements

The limited archaeological and ethnographic data from Long Island and adjacent areas suggest that the native people of Long Island may have lived in settlements with populations which ranged from Jess than twenty to as many as five hundred inhabitants. Two very general settlement “types” have been identified, based on population and the presence of features indicating levels of social complexity. The smallest and least complex are the campsites which served as hunting or fishing stations or workshops located near the sources of shell or clay. These sites may have consisted of only one or two structures where ten or twenty people resided. The larger settlements may have been occupied by one hundred to five hundred or more people, with a communal building large enough to hold twenty or thirty people, a burial place, planting grounds ,menstrual houses, a small palisaded enclosure, sweat houses, and winter storage areas for surplus food (Ceci 1990: 19; Sears 1956, Callahan 1981: 136-36) 3

Roy Latham and Selah Lester’s nephew Thomas identified thirteen sites from this period around Three Mile Harbor. Several of these sites were located on Ashawag meadows.

The Ashawag villagers were quite innovative. They protected their fresh water supply by placing hollow logs upright into the ground around the spring. Lester and Latham found two of these prehistoric wells. They also found the remains of domestic activities. There were hearths filled with ash, animal bones, a large sandstone mortar weighing about 50 pounds and a nine pound pestle.

Along with these materials, they discovered the remains of pottery vessels. The pots were decorated in a variety of ways, including scallop shell stamping, cord marking, and punctated designs made with a sharp implement. Two of the pots were large enough to hold several gallons of liquid. The rims of two of these communal pots were decorated with four human faces looking out at the four cardinal points of the compass. Each face has a shell stamped diamond design around it. The size of the pots suggests that they were used to prepare communal meals.2

Stockade Forts

Near the end of the Late Woodland Period, perhaps a century or so before the arrival of the first Europeans, the Native peoples here began to build stockade forts.

The earliest one mentioned in the colonial records stood on the western crest of the Nominick hills overlooking Napeague Bay. No excavation was done there, so the exact site is not known.

A second fort, which may have been in use at the time the English arrived, stood on top of Fort hill, overlooking Fort Pond near the present-day village of Montauk. This site was examined by William Wallace Tooker, who reported finding 134 graves there. Unfortunately, the site has been vandalized over the years. Several graves were robbed and there were reports that one person was seen carrying a bushel basket full of human bones from Fort hill. In 1983, Edward Johannemann, an archaeologist from The State University at Stony Brook, excavated the site and confirmed Tooker’s description of a stockade enclosing an area 180 feet square.2

Material Culture and Tools

Johannemann also found evidence of tool making, several stone artifacts, and some broken pottery. Along with these materials, he found remains of clams, oysters, whelks, bluefish, and sturgeon.2

Wampum Manufacturing

Johannemann noted with some surprise that there was no wampum and no evidence of wampum manufacture anywhere on the Montauk fort site. He was surprised because Fort Corchaug, a contemporary Late Woodland site on the North Fork, contained broken whelk and quahog shells along with drilling tools, indicating that wampum manufacturing was a major activity there. The early colonial records are full of references to the abundance of wampum on the east end of Long Island. The absence of any such evidence at Montauk is puzzling.2

Late-Woodland Sites

  1. William A. Ritchie and Robert E. Funk, Aboriginal Settlement Patterns in the Northeast 1973  (pg 323)[]
  2.  John Strong, from Transcript of Indians of Eastern Long Island Lecture, 2002[][][][][]
  3. John Strong, The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700, pg 70., 1997[]