Section 1: Societies

The People we know today as the Mandans moved into North Dakota around the year 1000 A.D. They moved north along the Missouri River to the mouth of the Heart River and the mouth of the Knife River where they were still living in the 19th century. It is likely that along their journey, they learned about corn and how to grow it.

As the Mandans traveled northward over a period of several centuries, there were probably several village groups. However, the people of all of these villages shared a language and many traditions and customs. These shared cultural characteristics were part of what made them a society, or tribe. All of the Mandans might get together from time to time for a celebration. Young people of the various villages might marry one another. The villages, however, maintained the proper size for the resources available to them.

AHP 11
Image 1: These bits of clay pottery were found at the Naze House site during an archaeological excavation. The People of a society or tribe generally made pottery in a certain way. However, each potter marked pots with a particular design. Pot style and designs such as these can be used to identify the society or tribe that made them. SHSND AHP.

Nomadic Peoples also developed societies, or tribes. We know more about the societies that organized in ancient permanent villages. Because they stayed in one place for a rather long period of time, archaeologists have been able to recover artifacts from these villages.

The archaeological sites reveal that the Mandans had several characteristics in common. Like other Plains Villagers, the Mandans made very fine pottery. The pottery was of a certain style and decorated in such a way that the pots were clearly associated with the Mandans. (See Image 1.)

The Mandans also lived in earthlodge villages where as many as 1,200 people lived in ancient times. As sedentary people, the Mandans supplemented their hunting and gathering with crops they raised in their gardens. Corn became the most valuable crop they raised. Over centuries, they shared their knowledge of corn cultivation with other Mandan villages. Through careful cultivation, the Mandans developed as many as 13 different varieties of corn.

The Mandans became well known as a tribe that welcomed visitors, especially those interested in trade. They had an adoption ceremony so that people not born into the tribe could become Mandans.

Why is this important?  Tribal organization was part of the development of human life on the northern Great Plains. Tribes provided extra protection and a stronger social organization for tribal members. Children of a tribe grew up knowing that they were part of a society that not only cared for them, but held a place for them as they became adults. In addition, each member of the tribe contributed to the needs of the entire community.