Prehistoric Appalachian life

Paleo Indians ~

The Lithic peoples or Paleo-Indians are the earliest known settlers of the Americas. The period's name derives from the appearance of "lithic flaked" stone tools.
The Lithic peoples or Paleo-Indians are the earliest known settlers of the Americas. The period's name derives from the appearance of "lithic flaked" stone tools. | Source

Prehistoric evidence ~

Evidence of prehistoric Appalachian life can still be found in the regions. When tourists and hikers flock to the trails of the Appalachians and soak up the beauty and culture of the area they may not realize that they walk by evidence, sometimes hidden or forgotten, of the prehistoric Appalachian cultures - the times long before European contact.

In 2011 a distant ancestor of the crocodile, aetosaur, was found in the Triassic basins southwest of Raleigh, North Carolina. It is a new species of the ancient reptile and has been given the name Gorgetosuchus pekinensis by North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences professor Dr. Andrew B. Heckert and his staff.

Aetosaur ~

Life restoration of Typothorax coccinarum (Aetosaur)
Life restoration of Typothorax coccinarum (Aetosaur) | Source

Appalachian Regions ~

Often when one thinks of Appalachia, the thought of the mountains create a beautiful and majestic image in the mind. This system of the North American mountain ranges stretch from Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada and run south and westward down to central Alabama in the United States, creating foothills in northeastern Mississippi. The range varies from 90 to 300 miles wide and 1,500 miles long.

Within this vast range lie 420 counties in 13 states. This is the current definition made by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The region defined by the ARC currently includes all of West Virginia and 14 counties in New York, 52 in Pennsylvania, 32 in Ohio, 3 in Maryland, 54 in Kentucky, 25 counties and 8 cities in Virginia, 29 in North Carolina, 52 in Tennessee, 6 in South Carolina, 37 in Georgia, 37 in Alabama, and 24 in Mississippi.

Let us imagine that we are far above this vast area, seeing a bird's eye view of it all. Now let us soar down like an Eagle to get a closer look and go back, far back, in time to the days of the original inhabitants.

We come upon a group of people foraging in the mountains. These were members of tribes who lived there over 12,000 years ago. In the 16Th century, the de Soto and Juan Pardo expeditions explored the mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, and encountered a population of Muskogean speaking inhabitants.

Regions of Appalachia
Regions of Appalachia | Source

Ancient Mississippian and other cultures ~

Map showing Mississippian and related cultures that existed prior to European contact.
Map showing Mississippian and related cultures that existed prior to European contact. | Source

A Mississippian priest ~

Mississippian priest, with a ceremonial flint mace, image by Herb Roe, based on a repoussé copper plate
Mississippian priest, with a ceremonial flint mace, image by Herb Roe, based on a repoussé copper plate | Source

Paleo-Indians and Mississippian Culture ~

Long before Europeans came to what is now the United States, there were indigenous people of the Mississippian culture who were mound builders and lived well in a land of abundance.

This advanced race were hunter-gatherers. Plants, fruits, berries, nuts and roots were available to supplement their diet of meat. Archaeological evidence shows that indigenous tribes lived in the Appalachian regions over 12,000 years ago. They were of complex agrarian societies.

The people of the Mississippian Culture came from the Paleo-Indians, the first people to discover and inhabit the American continents. Research and evidence so far suggest that Paleo-Indians came from Asia into Alaska via the Bering Strait. As ice-free passages opened up during 16,500 BCE - 13,500 BCE, the people migrated into North America, following large groups of animals. Eventually, these Paleo-Indians migrated in groups to different parts of the new lands and some became inhabitants of the Appalachian areas.

There are continuing debates on the exact dates of the Paleo Indians and Mississippian Culture settlements.

The earliest Spanish expeditions in the 14th century, encountered the late Mississippian Culture, which were in decline, and the early Moskogean settlements. Descendants of the Mississippians are believed to be the early Muskogean speaking tribes of Appalachia.

The Muskogee people settled in what is now Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. Later European expeditions, towards the end of the 17th century, came upon the Algonquian tribes, the Shawnee, who inhabited the central parts of the regions -- while the Cherokee were further south in Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

The Great Smoky Mountains became the homeland of the Cherokee. They relied heavily on their advanced agricultural methods of plantings to supplement their diets from gathering and hunting.

Mississippian Settlement, Kincaid Site ~

The Kincaid Site as it may have looked at its peak
The Kincaid Site as it may have looked at its peak | Source

Mound Builders ~

There were prehistoric peoples in North America who were called Mound Builders. These Pre-Columbian cultures of the Archaic period, Woodland period (Adena and Hopewell), and the Mississippian period, existed during a 5,000 year period, from approximately 3500 BCE to the 16th century CE.

These indigenous people lived and thrived in the regions of what are now the Great Lakes, Ohio River Valley and the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. Watson Brake, (North America's earliest mound complex) was constructed around 3500 BCE - 1,900 years before the Poverty Point complex in Louisiana. The Watson Brake is in the floodplain of the Ouachita River in northern Louisiana. This is evidence that the Mound Builders began their construction of cities and mounds nearly 1,000 years before Egypt's pyramids were built.

Map of the Watson Brake archaeological site ~

Watson Brake mounds site in northern Louisiana.
Watson Brake mounds site in northern Louisiana. | Source

Map of the Poverty Point archaeological site ~

Poverty Point archaeological site in southern Louisiana.
Poverty Point archaeological site in southern Louisiana. | Source

Monks Mound ~

Monks Mound, built c. 950-1100 CE and located at the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site near Collinsville, Illinois.  The concrete staircase is modern, but it is built along the approximate course of the original wooden stairs.
Monks Mound, built c. 950-1100 CE and located at the Cahokia Mounds UNESCO World Heritage Site near Collinsville, Illinois. The concrete staircase is modern, but it is built along the approximate course of the original wooden stairs. | Source

Grave Creek Mound in Moundsvillle, West Virginia ~

Grave Creek mound is one of the largest conical mounds in the United States. It was built by the Adena culture.
Grave Creek mound is one of the largest conical mounds in the United States. It was built by the Adena culture. | Source
show route and directions
A marker32°22′6.31″N 92°7′53.00″W -
2864 Philpot Road, West Monroe, LA 71292, USA
[get directions]

Watson Brake Mounds

B marker32°38′12″N 91°24′41″W -
6859 Louisiana 577, Pioneer, LA 71266, USA
[get directions]

Poverty Point

C marker38°39′38.4″N 90°3′43.36″W -
Monks Mound Trail, Collinsville, IL 62234, USA
[get directions]

Monks Mound

D marker39° 55′ 01″ N, 80° 44′ 42″ W -
901-999 Tomlinson Avenue, Moundsville, WV 26041, USA
[get directions]

Grave Creek Mound

Have you ever visited an archaeological site of mounds?

  • Yes, I have. Please share your experience and which site you visited in the comments section below.
  • No, but I would love to.
  • Are there people living in the mounds?
  • I have enough mounds to deal with in my back yard - gophers made them.
See results without voting

Cherokee Legends ~

Early life in Appalachia is steeped in fascinating history and legends. There are many legends of the Cherokee about the Smokies.

There is an old Cherokee legend that the Great Smoky Mountains were formed centuries ago when a giant buzzard, wearily circling the earth after a great flood, plummeted to the ground in exhaustion. Where his vast wings hit the earth, the mountain valleys appeared and his great body became the mountain peaks. The people were intrigued with the bluish mist that lingered over the mountains and called this land "Sha-cona-ge" (Land of the Blue Mist). This was the center of the Cherokee territory, their homeland.

Another legend is of a captured Shawnee, a medicine man, who bargained for his freedom. To keep his freedom, he must forever roam the mountain range, searching for Uktena, the Horned Serpent.

The Horned Serpent ~

The legend of the Horned Serpent is ancient. Different tribes have their own name for this very large creature. The Cherokee call it Uktena. It is of a great size, as big around as the trunk of a large tree. It has horns on the head and a bright, glowing diamond-like marking on its forehead. Scales on the serpent are very shiny, as if they were embers of fire. All along the body are round markings, like spots. The only way Uktena can be killed is to shoot into the seventh spot from the head, for that is where the heart of the serpent is. If one can kill Uktena and take the diamond from its forehead, that person will be a great member of the tribe, able to heal and do all magical things. The problem lies in trying to get close enough to Uktena without inhaling and dying from the deadly, poisonous, foul odor of its pestilent breath.

Horned Serpent rock art ~

Snakerock in New Mexico, similar to all horned serpent images from many tribes.
Snakerock in New Mexico, similar to all horned serpent images from many tribes. | Source

Great Smoky Mountains ~

The Great Smoky Mountains is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Smokies are also part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The World Network's focus is on developing better ways to live with our natural resources by gathering information and testing for a better approach to living in balance with nature.

Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains is an experience one will never forget. These are majestic mountains with an abundance of flora and fauna. Annual tourism counts to the Smokies is astounding - with the numerous choices for camping, cabins, resorts and places to visit, it is a fantastic place for family vacations.

Please watch this astonishing video about these pre-historic, remarkably advanced, peoples.

Note from author ~

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

More by this Author


Comments 14 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

I am familiar with all this beautiful area. Thank you for the history. Very interesting.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Beautiful work, Phyllis!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for your effort to bring us this.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Mhatter, thank you for the visit and comment. I appreciate it.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Will, that is very kind of you. Thanks for reading and commenting. I love history and will spend a lot more time on writing about the Appalachians. Have a great day.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Jackie. I have many friends living in the Appalachia areas and it is beautiful there. Thank you for the visit and comment -- it is much appreciated.


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Hi Phyllis, another lovely read! I really like this type of article, so enjoyed this very much. I actually spent one and a half years in West Virginia, living in Morgantown and Clarksburg. I did not get around a lot, but I still remember those hills! I hope to read some more of the same. Voted Up, and ABI. Also shared. See you!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Joan. Thank you for the visit and comments. I always appreciate your thoughts and visits. I bet you loved the West Virginia area. I have a friend there and he loves to go camping in the wilderness. Thanks again, Joan, for the visit. Have a wonderful day.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Hi Phyllis

this was so interesting. the Cherokee legends were particularly of interest as our family is of Cherokee heritage.

thank you for sharing this with us.

Angels are on the way this afternoon. ps


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Awww, Pat -- thank you for the Angels. I so need them today, for I spent last evening in the hospital with kidney problems. It was a kidney stone and I had so much pain that I am exhausted today. So, the Angels are a blessing for me.

Thank you so much for the visit, reading and comments, this is much appreciated. Angels hugs and blessing to you, my friend.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

What a wonderfully interesting hub; so useful also and you are a great teacher.

Eddy.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Eddy, thank you so much for the visit and comment. I have never had the pleasure of living in the Appalachian regions, but am so interested in the culture and history there, not to mention the beauty of the wilderness. Have a great day.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 20 months ago from New York

You've done it again, you've taught me history and I liked it. This was so interesting. How amazing what these people did!

The area is especially beautiful and I love the photos and maps.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 20 months ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

OMGosh ! Mary - thank you so much. This is an old hub that has been featured forever then suddenly went 'un' ! I worked on it for hours early today (got up at 5AM to do it). So, it is back in good standing. I so appreciate your visit and comment and glad you liked the hub. Thanks for the votes, too.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working