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Prehistory: First Inhabitants
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Kentucky Early History
First Early Inhabitants of Kentucky
Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Kentucky. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Kentucky.
Kentucky First Early Inhabitants Timeline
Early History of Native Americans in Kentucky
The Indigenous People of Kentucky
For many years, writers depicted Kentucky, the Great Meadows of Indian lore, as uninhabited prior to European settlement. They believed that the Indians considered the land sacred and lived elsewhere, coming to the region only to hunt and war. However, almost 3,000 years before Kentucky pioneers came face to face with such tribes as the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw, the area had been inhabited by prehistoric Indians. The ancestors of these earliest Kentuckians may have come to the Western Hemisphere as early as 20,000 years ago by crossing a strip of land, now submerged beneath the Bering Straits, connecting the Asian and North American continents. They slowly drifted southward, arriving in Kentucky by 12,000 B.C. Over many years these early Indians developed four prehistoric traditions which archaeologists have designated as Paleo Indian (12,000-7500 B.C.), Archaic (7500-1500 B.C.), Woodland (1500 B.C.-900 A.D.), and Mississippian (900-1650 A.D.).
Kentucky's first human inhabitants were descendants of prehistoric peoples who migrated from Asia over an artic land bridge to North America as long as 30,000 years ago. Even the earliest prehistoric Indians made stone and wooden hunting tools. Archaic people grew squash, and Woodland people expanded by growing corn and beans. The development of pottery in the Woodland Period led to new cooking methods that survived until the arrival of metal cookware.
When Hernando de Soto entered Kentucky on May 10th, 1541, he described one Indian Tribe in Western Kentucky between the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, calling them by slightly different names, ranging from Quizquiz (influenced by a place name of renown from DeSoto's Conquest of Peru) to Quizqui to Chisca, all sounding about the same in their language. The French would call them Casqui and the English Kashinampo. That tribe shared a unique language with the Casqui of Southern Indiana, the Alabamu of Central Tennessee and the Coste of Eastern Tennessee. They lived next to each other when DeSoto visited each of them, but that entire Indian language group would be scattered well before being described by later Europeans.
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