red ocher

Red Ocher Culture

The Red Ocher Culture is a series of archaeological sites located in the Upper Great Lakes, the Greater Illinois River Valley, and the Ohio River Valley in the American Midwest. The sites form a burial complex, dating from 1000 BC to 400 BC, the Terminal Archaic – Early Woodland period. Characterized as shallow burials located in sandy ridges along river valleys, covered in red ochre or hydrated iron oxide (FeH3O), and containing diagnostic artifacts that include caches of flint points, turkey-tails, and various forms of worked copper. Turkey-tails are large flint blades of a distinct type. It is believed that Red Ocher people spoke an ancestral form of the Algonquian languages.

The culture was first identified by the University of Chicago in 1937. The Red Ocher Culture was a topic of great interest among archaeologists, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, who were trying to better define the burial culture through various methods of research. Since then intermittent archaeological works have been published dealing with specific sub-topics within the burial culture supported by more reliable AMS carbon dates. Nevertheless, many important archaeological questions regarding the Red Ocher burial manifestation and cultural phenomenon are still without answers.


  • Cole, Fay-Cooper, and Deuel, Thorne. 1937. Rediscovering Illinois. University of Chicago Press.
  • Ritzenthaler, Robert, E. and Quimby, George, I. 1962. "The Red Ocher Culture of the Upper Great Lakes And Adjacent Areas". Fieldiana Anthropology 36:11. Chicago Natural History Museum.

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