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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Archaeological investigations in many parts of Oklahoma have revealed that even before contact with Europeans, the peoples occupying present Oklahoma were not isolated from outside influences or from each other. Paleoindian and earlier Archaic period populations from 10,500 to 2000 B.C., are believed to have moved frequently, possibly covering large territories. Although the distance covered declined over time, most resources were obtained through direct visits to sources. If true, trade was of little importance early but would have increased through time.

During the latter part of the Archaic and early part of the Woodland period (2000 B.C. to A.D. 1) mobility decreased, particularly in eastern Oklahoma. Consequently, culturally distinct groups are more recognizable archaeologically, as is trade. Most nonlocal resources came from nearby cultures. However, some resources originated from as far away as the Gulf Coast, Lake Superior, and Yellowstone areas. This represents the development of long-distance trade connections, but little is known about the political and social organization of this trade. Nonlocal stone materials were transformed into projectile points and other utilitarian tools. Received through long-distance connections, items made of stone were more often used for ornaments.

A time of widespread trade occurred during the period from A.D. 1 to 300. Most trade continued to be with nearby cultures. However, people in eastern Oklahoma also had connections that led to Marksville and Hopewellian societies along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. People in western Oklahoma were more mobile, and it is difficult to distinguish trade from direct acquisition. There is little evidence of long-distance trade. The political and social organization of trade may have centered on connections between political leaders who distributed items acquired through trade to other members of society, who in turn used them for decorations or utilitarian tools. By A.D. 300 this trade was on the decline.

The development of Caddoan tradition societies distinguished the period between A.D. 800 and 1200 in eastern Oklahoma. These were more socially complex than earlier societies. Political elites used nonlocal resources, especially those derived from long distances, to symbolize their unique social positions. Trade connections extended to the Mississippi Valley, northern Kansas, northern Texas, and the Southwestern United States. There was also a more local trade in goods that had a wider social distribution. Societies in more western parts of Oklahoma were less active in trade. Trade in that setting emphasized connections with those who lived nearby.

Caddoan societies reached their greatest levels of social complexity between A.D. 1200 and 1400 or 1450. Long-distance trade intensified, bringing in products from as far away as the Appalachians and the Pacific Ocean. However, interaction to the north declined and possibly did not extend beyond southern Kansas. The local trade continued. Societies in western Oklahoma increased their trade, both local and long distance. Connections included Caddoan societies, whose emblems of political authority were adopted by some western leaders.

The time between A.D. 1400 or 1450 and 1650 was marked by a decline in Caddoan social complexity, and eastward trade ended. However, westward interaction with Plains and Southwest cultures increased. Nonlocal goods were more widely distributed within Caddoan societies than they had been earlier. Important social changes also took place on the Oklahoma plains. Some societies switched to mobile bison hunting, and others aggregated into large farming villages. The hunting societies were not as socially complex, and nonlocal resources were widely distributed. Societies emphasizing farming increased in social complexity, and political leaders often controlled access to nonlocal materials. The trade patterns established during this period provided the fabric for American Indian encounters with Euroamericans.

Susan C. Vehik


Laura Kozuch, "Olivella Beads from Spiro and the Plains," American Antiquity 67 (October 2002).

Susan C. Vehik, "Conflict, Trade, and Political Development on the Southern Plains," American Antiquity 67 (January 2002).

Susan C. Vehik and Timothy G. Baugh, "Prehistoric Plains Trade," in Prehistoric Exchange Systems in North America, ed. Timothy G. Baugh and Jonathan E. Ericson (New York: Perseus Publishing, 1994).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Susan C. Vehik, “Precontact Trade Patterns,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=PR007.

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