“Archaic Period: A term used to describe an early stage in the development of civilization. Specifically, in Egypt it covers the first two dynasties, c 3200-2800 BC, in which the country was unified and came to its first flowering of culture. In Greece it describes the rise of civilization from c 750 BC to the Persian invasion in 480 BC. As used by Americanists, the term refers to a stage of development rather than a chronologicaql period. It is characterized by a hunting and gathering way of life in a post-Pleistocene environment similar to that of the present. Under special circumstances there may be settled life, pottery, and even agriculture as long as this is subsidiary to the collection of wild foods. The term was coined for certain cultures of the woodlands of eastern North America dating from c 8000-1000 BC, but usage has been extended (sometimes uncritically) to all sorts of unrelated cultures which show a similar level of development but may be of widely varying dates.
Excerpted from: Bray, Warwick, and David Trump. The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology. New York: Penguin, 1984.