The Glenwood Culture
Archaeologists use certain words to divide prehistoric time (the time before history was recorded with words) into units. A period groups a span of years during which time the people shared similar characteristics in terms of their life styles.
For prehistoric Iowa, the four periods of human activity from earliest to most recent are the Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland and the Late Prehistoric period—during which the Great Oasis, Nebraska (the Glenwood), Mill Creek and Oneota cultures thrived. The Paleoindian period was about 12,000 years ago. The Archaic period in Iowa was between 10,000 and 3,000 years ago. The Woodland period began about 300 B.C.E. in Iowa and lasted about 1,000 years. The late prehistoric period began about 900 C.E.
The Nebraska culture in Iowa was represented by the Glenwood people. Glenwood culture sites from the Prehistoric Period are mostly found in Mills County along the loess hills and stream valleys. These areas had soil that was easy to work, water that was easy to access, and wood that could be used for fuel and for building houses.
Hunting and Farming
About 240 lodges have been found in the Glenwood area. Most of the Glenwood houses were individual homesteads or in small clusters. None of these sites have fort-like walls. Because of this archaeologists believe that Glenwood people lived peacefully with their neighbors.
Typical houses were square with rounded corners and a covered, south-facing door. These earthlodges were built in a shallow pit. The walls were closely spaced vertical posts. They had four cone-shaped roof supports. In the middle was a fire pit. In some of the houses, a wide bench was built around the central living area.
Glenwood people dug cache pits in the floor of their houses. These pits were used to store food and other items. Some of the pits were shallow depressions. Others were deep, straight-walled or bell-shaped pits.
The Glenwood were probably farmers. The location of living sites and the burned remains of com, beans, sunflowers and squash in the cache pits suggest farming activities. In addition, archaeologists have found stone and bone artifacts commonly used in farming.
Bone hoes were made of the scapula (shoulder blade) of bison and elk. These hoes have notched edges that probably made it easier to attach them to sturdy wooden handles. Freshwater mussel shells were used for hoes and also as com-shellers. Stone tools, such as manos, were used to grind com and other seeds.
In addition to farming, Glenwood people hunted. The most common hunting weapon was the bow and arrow. The arrowheads were small notched projectile points or sometimes larger triangular points.
Bison was a part of the diet for Glenwood people. The number of deer and elk bone found in Glenwood houses suggests that both of these were often hunted too. They also hunted squirrel, rabbit, smaller mammals and wild game birds.
The river provided an abundance of fresh-water mussels used for food and tools. Large river fish, such as catfish and buffalo suckers, were caught using bone hooks. Fish-shaped lures or decoys made of mussel shell have been unearthed. Harpoons have been found. Most archaeologists believe these were probably fishing tools.
A number of different tools were used in the processing of meat and preparing of hides. These include oval, triangular and diamond-shaped stone knives. Also snub-nosed end scrapers and side scrapers were used. Drills, bone awls and hide grainers have been found.
To make a hide grainer, the ball joint on the long bone of a young animal was removed. The tough, textured side was then rubbed against a hide to roughen it. Bone needles and sinew thread were then used to sew skins together to make clothing and other items.
Glenwood people also used antler knapping tools, anvils, whetstones, shaft straighteners and wrenches. These items were used to make other tools and keep them in working order. Whetstones were used for sharpening blades. A shaft straightener was made by drilling a hole in bone or antler. A wooden arrow shaft was put through the holes of two shaft straighteners. The straighteners were then twisted and turned in opposite directions to straighten the shaft.
Pots found at the Glenwood sites show special designs. Glenwood pots were globular shaped. They had a narrowed neck, various rim forms, rounded shoulder and round bottom. Vessel walls were formed by modeling the clay into the desired shape. The clay was thinned by beating it with a cord-wrapped paddle. Cord marks were often smoothed over before the pot was fired.
Several ceramic types have been identified within the Glenwood artifacts. Vessels with a narrow band of clay added to the rim—called collared vessels—have been found. Uncollared vessels—without the extra clay on the rim—have also been discovered. In the Glenwood culture decoration was usually only added to the rim or collar. One type of mark was made by pinching the clay on the edge of the rim. Sometimes a finger or blunt tool was used to create a narrow row of marks on the lip or bottom of the collar. A sharp tool was used to cut straight line designs.
Some pots also had loop handles, handles with holes (probably to hang the vessel), or sculpted images (effigies), sometimes in animal forms. Other ceramic artifacts include pipes, beads, scoops and miniature vessels. Archaeologists believe some may have been made by children. Crushed granite or a mixture of sand and granite was most often added to the clay used in Glenwood vessels. Sometimes ground shells were added to the clay.
While they were in Iowa the Glenwood people lived in peaceful farming communities. A large number of radiocarbon dates indicate that the Glenwood people were in southwestern Iowa until the early 14th century. After that time, there is no further trace of them in the state.
A changing climate, repeated crop failure, or pressure from other groups may have caused them to leave. It seems likely that they moved westward and northward. Quite possibly, they learned new traditions from the people with whom they came in contact. It is likely that their descendants were the Arikara and the Pawnee. These cultures were first met by French explorers in South and North Dakota in the 18th century.