Thursday, April 14, 2016

American Indian Archaeology By Gerald F. Schroedl

American Indian Archaeology

Gerald F. Schroedl

Ancestors of American Indians have lived in East Tennessee for at least 13,000 years.  Their culture and how it has changed are documented from stone, bone, and pottery artifacts and from traces of their settlements still evident in the ground. The earliest cultures are called Paleoindian and occupied the region at the end of the last glacial period. They hunted now extinct animals such as mastodons and made a variety of large distinctive stone spear points such as Clovis. 

The Archaic period begins around 11,500 when Native Americans hunted deer, bear, and wild turkey and gathered many plants such as acorns, hickory nuts that still characterize the region.  They occupied seasonal settlements, mostly in river valley, and also established a variety of temporary camps in upland areas.  As the climate warmed after about 8,900 years ago, there are changes in tool technologies and greater variety in the distribution and character of settlements.  As the climate cooled to modern conditions around 5,800 years ago, Archaic populations increased and began to domestic native plants such as chenopod and sunflower. The first use of pottery also occurred.

The succeeding Woodland period from 3,200 to 1,000 years ago exhibits over 50 pottery styles in East Tennessee alone.  Woodland people occupied small villages year round and cultivated small gardens. Burial mounds and ceremonial objects suggest greater social and ceremonial complexity and widespread interaction with other groups in eastern North America.  Large palisaded villages, public plazas, ceremonial mounds, elaborate mortuary ritual, and corn agriculture are characteristic of the succeeding Mississippian period.  It persisted until about A.D. 1600 when European contact and diseases devastated Native America populations.  Among their descendants, the Cherokee, Creeks, Chickasaw, and Yuchi, lived in Tennessee. Although some archaeological sites are attributed to them, identifying their specific ancestors in the prehistoric archaeological record is difficult because material things seldom show unbroken and unambiguous continuity from the present to the past.  At Marble Springs small numbers of stone artifacts attest to temporary encampments during the Archaic period, but no other occupations are presently known.  American Indians stopped at the local springs for many thousands of years before John Sevier made the area his home.