Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
There is nothing recent about humans seeking out beautiful and quixotic landscapes that attract the eye & awaken the mind to the possibilities of things unseen. Once found, these special places are returned to, often during a specific time of year like the solstices, and become gathering points taking on spiritual significance.
Good evidence suggests the role of special places as gathering points for various nomadic, hunter-forager groups was an important factor in the development of civilization. These nomadic groups worked together to build monuments like Stonehenge (and the related Woodhenge).
Civilization developed at a later date in the Americas than in Africa, Asia, & Europe. Anthropologists like Jared Diamond ascribe this in part do to the lack of other sociable animals adaptable to domestication, as well as the difficulty in transfusing staple crops like corn and potato to different latitudes.
While the cultivation of corn did not arrive to the East Coast until 2300 years ago, hickory nuts, sunflowers, lambsquarters, and squashes were already being farmed approximately 3500 years ago, during what is known as the Late Archaic Period. Much of what was being practiced on a smaller scale during the Late Archaic Period, proliferated in the subsequent Woodland Period.
During the Woodland Period (3,000 - 1,100 years ago), pottery production increased expeditiously and the spear was replaced by the bow & arrow as the principle tool of warfare and hunting. Trade increased with distant tribes like the Ohio Hopewell Culture to the north. Some began to construct elaborate burial mounds, as well as other earthworks for religious purposes.
Two significant Middle Woodland Period sites of this mound-builder culture are found within Tennessee's boundaries. They are the Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park and Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park.
Old Stone Fort is located on a hill between where the Big Duck and Little Duck Rivers converge, as well as being at the boundary of the Eastern Highland Rim and the Central Basin. The rivers cascade and fall at a rapid descent to the Basin through distinctive shale and limestone gullies on their way to merging.
Approximately 2,000 thousand years ago, Native Americans of the Middle Woodland Period built up the boundaries on Old Stone Fort's hilltop. The area was not inhabited continuously through its 500 years of use. Instead it is thought the enclosed area was temporarily inhabited during times of religious ceremonies.
Centuries after the structure was abandoned and centuries after the end of the Middle Woodland Period, early settlers would discover the site. The early English settlers were uncertain of the complex's purpose but defense seemed a definite possibility and so such places became to be known as forts.
During the 19th century, the Old Stone Fort became a site of pulp and paper mills, as well as remaining a site of archaeological speculation. In 1966, Tennessee purchased and designated the area as a State Park.
The Old Stone Fort Trail is a 1.4 mile loop hike around the hilltop paralleling the remains of the old enclosure walls built by the Native Americans of the Middle Woodland Period. Informative signs mark key points along the trail describing the history and geography of Old Stone Fort. Side trails cut away leading to rocky climbs down to cascades and waterfalls situated on the Duck Rivers, the largest being Big Falls.
The Abandoned River Trail, Forks in the River Trail, and Little Duck River Trail are all accessed by the Old Stone Fort Trail. The State Park also has a museum, campground, picnic areas, a paved hiking trail and a nature trail. Further information on Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is linked below.
Further Online Resources:
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park Map
Prehistoric American Indians in Tennessee by Jefferson Chapman, PhD (University of Tennessee Knoxville)
Native History Association - Middle Tennessee's Native American History: The Woodland Period
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is located about 257 miles from ETSU and Johnson City. Driving directions to Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park using Google Maps is linked here.