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Tennessee Early HistoryTennessee Early History: Tennessee Flag

First Early Inhabitants of Tennessee

Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Tennessee. Learn about the history and culture of the first inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Tennessee.

Tennessee First Early Inhabitants Timeline

  • 12,000-15,000 years ago - Paleo Indians. Humans first inhabited the land now known as Tennessee when the last of the Ice Age glaciers retreated. Early man hunted mastodon that roamed during the last Ice Age.
  • 12,000 years ago - Archaic period.During the Archaic period, descendants of the Paleo-Indians began to settle on river terraces, where they gathered wild plant food and shellfish in addition to hunting game. The mastodons died out and they began hunting smaller game. With a more secure food supply, populations expanded rapidly.
  • 300 BC - 1000 AD - Woodland Period of permanent houses, embellished pottery, bows and arrows, and maize and squash cultivation.
  • 700 AD - 1300 AD - Mississippian period. The peak of prehistoric cultural development in Tennessee occurred during the Mississippian period. Cultivation of new and improved strains of corn and beans fueled a large jump in population.

Early History of Native Americans in Tennessee

The Indigenous People of Tennessee

The story of man in Tennessee begins with the last retreat of the Ice Age glaciers, when a colder climate and forests of spruce and fir prevailed in the region. Late Ice Age hunters probably followed animal herds into this area some 12,000-15,000 years ago. These nomadic Paleo-Indians camped in caves and rock shelters and left behind their distinctive arrowheads and spear points. They may have used such stone age tools to hunt the mastodon and caribou that ranged across eastern Tennessee. About 12,000 years ago, the region's climate began to warm and the predominant vegetation changed from conifer to our modern deciduous forest. Abundant acorns, hickory, chestnut and beech mast attracted large numbers of deer and elk. Warmer climate, the extinction of the large Ice Age mammals, and the spread of deciduous forests worked together to transform Indian society. During what is known as the Archaic period, descendants of the Paleo-Indians began to settle on river terraces, where they gathered wild plant food and shellfish in addition to hunting game.

Sometime between 3,000 and 900 B.C., natives took the crucial step of cultivating edible plants such as squash and gourds—the first glimmerings of agriculture. Archaic Indians thereby ensured a dependable food supply and freed themselves from seasonal shortages of wild plant foods and game. With a more secure food supply, populations expanded rapidly and scattered bands combined to form larger villages.

The next major stage of Tennessee pre-history, lasting almost 2,000 years, is known as the Woodland period. This era saw the introduction of pottery, the beginnings of settled farming communities, the construction of burial mounds and the growing stratification of Indian society. Native Americans in Tennessee made the transition from societies of hunters and gatherers to well-organized tribal, agricul- Early man hunted mastodon that roamed during the last Ice Age.

The peak of prehistoric cultural development in Tennessee occurred during the Mississippian period (900-1,600 A.D.). Cultivation of new and improved strains of corn and beans fueled another large jump in population. An increase in territorial warfare and the erection of ceremonial temples and public structures attest to the growing role of chieftains and tribalism in Indian life. Elaborate pottery styles and an array of personal artifacts such as combs, pipes, and jewelry marked the complex society of these last prehistoric inhabitants of Tennessee

Sometime between 3,000 and 900 BC, natives began to cultivate plants such as squash and gourds, and could therefore depend upon a regular food supply. This caused the native population to increase, and groups of nomadic hunters began to settle into larger villages.

During the next stage, known as the Woodland period, natives began to make pottery, develop agriculture, construct burial mounds, and live in large, permanent towns. Between 900 and 1600 AD, natives learned to cultivate corn and beans, and the population increased again. It was at this time that groups of natives began to battle each other for territory and develop tribal identity. Archaeologists have found elaborate pottery, and personal items like combs, pipes and jewelry which demonstrate the complexity of these native societies.

The first Europeans to explore the area were led by Hernando de Soto in 1541 as part of de Soto's futile search for gold and silver. Two later expeditions led by Juan Pardo introduced firearms and deadly European diseases to the native populations. Both of these prompted a sharp decline in the native tribes. Guns changed the way the natives hunted and battled with neighboring tribes, and made the native people dependent upon the colonial fur trade. Natives supplied deer and beaver hides to European traders in return for guns, rum and manufactured articles. No longer were the native tribes self-sufficient, and they began more and more influenced by European settlers and politics.

In the 150 years after de Soto first came to Tennessee, new native tribes moved into the area, defeating the less developed tribes. The Cherokee, the Chickasaw and the Shawnee tribes began to increase their influence in the area, but by 1715, the stronger Cherokee and Chickasaw had driven out the Shawnee.

A HISTORY OF TENNESSEE - TENNESSEE BLUE BOOK

US History Overview
US History Guide
The word History comes from the Greek word historķa meaning "to learn or know by inquiry." History is not static. It's fluid. It changes and grows and becomes richer and more complex when any individual interacts with it.


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