The Mandans built dome-shaped houses of logs and earth, known as earth-lodges. All that remains of the earthlodges on the surface are circular depressions. The men usually decided how large an earthlodge would be, and the women did most of the building. To build an earthlodge, a wooden framework was erected, then covered with layers of willow branches, grass, and finally, earth. It took about 150 trees to build one earthlodge. Earthlodges typically were 35 to 45 feet in diameter, although they varied from 20 to 65 feet, and housed a family of eight to twenty people.
The Mandans are one of the best-known agricultural tribes of the Missouri Valley region. The Missouri River valley provided water, food, and shelter for the Mandans. Abundant timber and game could be found in the wooded bottomlands, and bison flourished on the surrounding prairie grasslands. The terrace-edge settings of the villages offered access to garden land and abundant timber as well as extensive views up and down the valley. The Mandans developed a rich and elaborate culture based on farming and bison hunting. Farming produced a large surplus of food which could be stored for use during leaner times and traded to nomadic, non-farming groups. Principal crops include corn, beans, and squash. Sunflowers and tobacco also were grown.
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