The sequences of North American prehistoric cultural stages first proposed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips in 1958 are:
1. The Lithic stage
2. The Archaic stage
3. The Formative stage
4. The Classic stage
5. The Post-Classic stage
i- The Lithic stage, the earliest period of human occupation in the Americas, accruing during the Late Pleistocene period, to time before 8,000 B.C. The stage derived its name from the first appearance of Lithic flaked stone tools. The time encompasses the Paleo-Indian period.
ii- The Archaic stage or “Meso-Indian period” was the second period of human occupation in the Americas, from around 8000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. although as its ending is defined by the adoption of sedentary farming, this date can vary “significantly across the Americas”. The Archaic stage is characterized by subsistence economies supported through the exploitation of nuts, seeds and shellfish. The period has been subdivided by region and then time. For-instance, the Archaic Southwest tradition is subdivided into the Dieguito-Pinto, Oshara, Cochise and Chihuahua cultures.
iii- The Formative Stage or “Neo-Indian period” is an archaeological term describing a particular developmental level. This stage lasted from 1000 BC to AD 500. Cultures of the Formative Stage are supposed to possess the technologies of pottery, weaving, and developed food production. Social organization is supposed to involve permanent towns and villages, as well as the first ceremonial centres. Ideologically, an early priestly class or theocracy is often present or in development. Examples of cultures considered to be Formative include the Adena, Olmec, Old Copper, Woodland and Mississippian cultures.
Formative stage (2,000 BC to 500 AD), the “Neo-Indian” cultures like Tiwanaku, Olmec, Zapotec, Thule and Mississippian start to develop. This regional adaptations would in-time become the norm, with reliance less on hunting and gathering, with a more mixed economy of small game and harvested plant foods. In the western plains, groups had moved toward the mountain valleys and shifted from nomadic hunting to more fixed base hunting. The eastern groups had turned to a mixed economy with far more dependence on vegetable foods and small game (deer and rabbits).
In Central America (Mesoamerica), agricultural advancements allowed the higher costs of more permanent residence to accumulate faster than the north. Metals such as copper was beginning to be used in the production of utilitarian tools such as fish gaffs and adzes.
iv- The Classic Stage is an archaeological term describing a particular developmental level dating from AD 500 to 1200. Cultures of the Classic Stage are supposed to possess craft specialization and the beginnings of metallurgy. Social organization is supposed to involve the beginnings of urbanism and large ceremonial centres. Ideologically, Classic cultures should have a developed theocracy. The “Classic Stage” was initially defined as restricted to the complex societies of Mesoamerica and Peru. However, the time period includes other advanced cultures like, Hopewell Teotihuacan and the early Maya.
Through the Classic period (100 AD to 1,200 AD), decorative objects such as beads and other ornaments reached there apex of complexity alongside Mesoamerican architecture. Cultures of the Post-Classic stage typically dates from 1200 CE to modern times. The time period is defined distinctly by cultures possessing developed metallurgy,(Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America) social organization involving complex urbanism and militarism systems. Ideologically, Post-Classic cultures like the Aztec are described as showing a tendency towards the secularization of society.
v- The Post-Classic Stage is an archaeological term describing a particular developmental level. Cultures of the Post-Classic Stage are defined distinctly by possessing developed metallurgy. Social organization is supposed to involve complex urbanism and militarism. Ideologically, Post-Classic cultures are described as showing a tendency towards the secularization of society.
Examples of cultures considered to be Post-Classic include the Aztecs and the late Maya. The “Post-Classic Stage” followed the Classic stage and typically dates from AD 1200 to modern time.