The First Farmers
Tennessee was one of the first known places in the southeast that Native Americans began to cultivate plants. This happened during the Woodland Period, making them the first farmers.
Woodland Indians, who lived in the valleys along Tennessee rivers, began to plant food for their own survival. The way we know this is through archaeological digs. Archaeologists dis-cover-ed maize, or corn, at a site called Icehouse Bottom in East Tennessee near the Tellico Reservoir Lake.
Using radiocarbon dating , archaeologists determined that the maize was planted about 1,800 years ago between 200 A.D. and 400 A.D.
The Woodland Indians also planted other fruits, seeds, and vegetables. Archaeologists have found large amounts of persimmons and grapes, sunflowers, and squash seeds at Woodland sites in Tennessee.
Although Woodland Indians began to plant seeds for agriculture, they did not rely on it completely. Most Woodland Indians still hunted animals, gathered wild plants and shellfish, and fished for their food.
Even with the plantings, maize was a very small part of their diet. Maize would not be used on a large scale in Tennessee until hundreds of years later during the Mississippian period.
- Painting entitled, “Woodland Farming.” This painting was created by Carlyle Urello. It depicts numerous women engaged in a variety of agricultural activities such as planting seeds, tending squash, and hoeing. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 95.94.5
- Photograph of two people collecting food. A woman is shown holding a basket, while a man is shown using a net in the water. Illinois State Museum
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