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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The Wister Phase is a Late Archaic construct introduced by Robert E. Bell (1980) and subsequently expanded by Jerry Galm (1981, 1984), following a reexamination of "midden mound" sites in the Arkoma Basin of east-central Oklahoma. Dates on site components from the Wister Valley establish an age range for the phase of circa 1500 to 300 B.C. The upper age limit corresponds to the appearance of pottery in this portion of the Arkansas River watershed. The introduction of pottery and ceramic technology marked the beginning of the Fourche Maline Phase and a Woodland adaptive pattern. Contracting-stemmed projectile point/knife forms (principally the Gary type) dominated but co-occurred with a variety of expanding-stemmed and corner-notched point styles. Bone, shell (particularly marine shell), and ground-stone artifacts were common, and a high degree of technological sophistication was attained in working these raw materials.

Trade and exchange networks were extensive and connected Late Archaic peoples of this region to other contemporary centers of development in the trans-Mississippi South and beyond. Burials, typically containing individuals in flexed positions, were the most commonly occurring feature. An increase in grave goods during later segments of this phase implied the growth of a mortuary complex, perhaps associated with the expanding influence of the Poverty Point culture. Other features included small pits, ash lenses or concentrations, and burned/unburned rock concentrations. Evidence of housing was virtually absent in Wister Phase components. Preliminary data on settlement patterning indicated the emergence of a highly efficient riverine adaptation in this time frame.

In the Wister Valley and adjoining areas the hallmark site type was the midden mound, an accretional deposit formed by repeated waste disposal within a spatially bounded area. Cultural deposits in midden mounds were characteristically deep, stratified, and span time intervals minimally from the Archaic into the Woodland period. The appearance of Mississippian Tradition materials in the uppermost levels of these sites is also a common occurrence, at least among the Wister Valley site sample. Like their counterparts in the succeeding Fourche Maline Phase, the Late Archaic Wister components were overwhelmingly represented in midden mound contexts, as other site types and locations in this riverine-based adaptive strategy remain to be defined.

Subsistence pursuits included a heavy dependence on nuts, particularly of the genus Carya, as well as lesser amounts of acorns. Deer dominated meat supplies in faunal samples from this time frame but were supplemented by a variety of small game and aquatic resources (fish, turtles, and freshwater mussels). So dominant was the role of nut harvesting in the Wister subsistence strategy that nutshells comprised the principal component of organic refuse that in time transformed these site areas into human-created landforms. Available evidence suggested a pattern of intermittent, year-round occupation of midden mound sites. The Late Archaic population base, fueled by an abundance of regional resources and an increasingly efficient adaptation, expanded significantly over preceding group sizes in the Middle Archaic. At the end of the twentieth century archaeologists did not fully understand the broader cultural connections to other regional Late Archaic manifestations, such as the Poverty Point culture.

Jerry Galm


Robert E. Bell, "Fourche Maline: An Archaeological Manifestation in Eastern Oklahoma," in Caddoan and Poverty Point Archaeology, Essays in Honor of C. H. Webb (Lafayette: Louisiana Archaeological Society, 1980).

Robert E. Bell, ed., Prehistory of Oklahoma (Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press, 1984).

Jerry R. Galm, "Prehistoric Cultural Adaptations in the Wister Valley, East-Central Oklahoma" (Ph.D. diss., Washington State University, 1981).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Jerry Galm, “Wister Phase,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=WI032.

Published January 15, 2010

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