Mississippian & Oneota Traditions Introduction

Hunters, Gatherers, Fishers and Farmers
1000 to 1650 A.D.

The Oneota and Mississippian traditions are the first full scale farmers in Wisconsin, over 500 years before the arrival of the first Europeans in the state! What caused the southern Woodland people to adapt to this new lifeway? For the answer to that question we need to look outside Wisconsin to southern Illinois. The center of Mississippian tradition was a site called Cahokia across the Mississippi River from the current city of St. Louis, Missouri. Mississippian people in southern Illinois lived in large planned permanent towns with ceremonial centers. Large urban populations were supported by intensive farming of corn, beans and squash.

Mississippian people had a hierarchical society with political and religious structures. Platform mounds were used for ceremonies or possibly high ranking individuals lived there. These Mississippian ideas were dispersed from the center of Mississippian culture in Cahokia to other areas including Wisconsin. Two major Mississippian sites in Wisconsin are Aztalan, located in the center of the state, and a site near Trempealeau, but other Mississippian campsites or villages are also located in Grant and Vernon counties.

Another tradition in the southern part of Wisconsin was the Oneota. In some ways the Oneota culture was much like the Mississippian culture found in Illinois. Oneota is considered the local version of Mississippian. Both traditions had large villages involved in farming. Archaeologists do notice differences in some of the artifacts that people left behind. The pottery of the Oneota is different from that made by the Mississippians. Archaeologists also do not find as many of the exotic goods that are found at Mississippian sites. This causes archaeologists to think that the Oneota weren't involved as extensively in the long range trading that the Mississippian people were. These things tell archaeologists that the Oneota and Mississippian people did things a little differently.

Archaeologists have differing views on where the Oneota came from. Some archaeologists think that new people who came into Wisconsin brought the new Oneota ways. Other archaeologists think that the Oneota tradition was adapted from the Mississippian tradition. Archaeologists will have to continue working to find the answers to where the Oneota tradition came from or how it developed.