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The Woodland Indians are the third major prehistoric culture to live in Tennessee. The first was the Paleo-Indians, who were nomads, and the second were the Archaic Indians.
The Woodland Indians era in the state lasted about 2,000 years from 1,000 B.C. to 1,000 A.D. Archaeologists divide this time into three periods, the Early Woodland (1,000 B.C. to 0 A.D.), the Middle Woodland (0 A.D. to 500 A.D.), and the Late Woodland (500 A.D. to 1,000 A.D.). Each of these periods had different characteristics of the Woodland way of life.
Woodland Indians were different from their Archaic ancestors in several ways. First, while pottery was developed during the Archaic period, the Woodland Indians became very good at making it. They also made it artistic.
Second, the Woodland Indians built large burial mounds throughout the region. One of the largest burial complexes left by the Woodland Indians is known as Pinson Mounds in West Tennessee.
Another major difference between the Archaic and the Woodland Indians was the cultivation of plants and the introduction of maize, or corn to Tennessee. Before, people were only hunters and gatherers—not growers.
Lastly, the Woodland Indians were innovators. They first used a bow and arrow in this region.
In all, the Woodland Indians had a very rich culture centered on these new innovations in pottery, burial customs, agriculture, trade, hunting and warfare. They began to develop more complex societies.
There was a highly developed culture to the north of Tennessee called the Hopewell Indians. The Hopewell Indians developed vast trade networks across the continent. This allowed the Woodland Indians in Tennessee access to pipestone from Minnesota, obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, and sea shells from the Gulf Coast.
Because of these cultural developments, the Woodland Indians population grew much more than their Archaic ancestors. During their time in Tennessee, these Indians spread throughout the state. They lived in the major river valleys of Tennessee and along smaller rivers and creeks.
One archaeologist described the Woodland people as “filling in” the land throughout the state. As a result of this population boom there are more Woodland archaeological sites in the state than Archaic sites.
- Painting entitled, “The Burial Mound People.” This painting was created by Carlyle Urello. It shows several people gathered around an earthen mound as two men cover up the body of a deceased person with mussel shells. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 95.94.6
- Photograph of a Pinson Mound. This photo was taken in Pinson, Tennessee. It shows a large mound surrounded by trees. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
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