Paleo-Indians are believed to have hunted and camped in what is now Tennessee as early as 12,000 years ago. Along with projectile points common for this period, archaeologists have uncovered a 12,000-year old mastodon skeleton in Williamson County with cut marks typical of prehistoric hunters.
The most prominent known Archaic period (c. 8000 – 1000 BC) site in Tennessee is the Icehouse Bottom site located just south of Fort Loudoun in Monroe County. Excavations at Icehouse Bottom in the early 1970s uncovered evidence of human habitation dating to as early as 7,500 BC. Other Archaic sites include Rose Island, located a few miles downstream from Icehouse Bottom, and the Eva site in Benton County.
Tennessee is home to two major Woodland period (1000 BC – 1000 AD) sites: the Pinson Mounds in Madison County and the Old Stone Fort in Coffee County, both built c. 1-500 AD. The Pinson Mounds are the largest Middle Woodland site in the Southeastern United States, consisting of at least 12 mounds and a geometric earthen enclosure. The Old Stone Fort is a large ceremonial structure with a complex entranceway, situated on what was once a relatively inaccessible peninsula.
Mississippian-era (c. 1000 – 1600) villages are found along the banks of most major rivers in Tennessee. The most well-known of these sites include Chucalissa near Memphis, Mound Bottom in Cheatham County, Shiloh Mounds in Hardin County, and the Toqua site in Monroe County. Excavations at the McMahan Mound Site in Sevier County and more recently at Townsend in Blount County have uncovered the remnants of palisaded villages dating to 1200.