A recent article out of Maryville, TN asks a very simple question: “Do you know who lived in your house before you did? How about what stood a century ago on the land where your house now sits?” And it is a good question to ask anyone since few of us could explain who may have lived in our family home or on our family’s land. We might guess that Native Americans may have lived in certain areas, but few of us are certain of the facts.

If you are eager to discover the facts about the Native American history of the Great Smoky Mountains region, you have a rare chance to do so thanks to a permanent display created by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center.

Asking just that same question as the one above (Do you know who lived on your land before you?), but increasing the time to ten thousand years, the museum offers a great deal of information as an answer to it.

Looking Back Thousands of Years

The modern city of Townsend, TN was once the home of the Cherokee people. They lived in the region more than ten thousand years ago and inhabited the area today known as the Tuckaleechee Cove area. The Heritage Center has a collection of more than one thousand artifacts by this ancient people, and even had the Townsend Archaeology Project from 1999 to 2001 in order to gather and curate the collection on display.

Because so many people envision pioneers as settling the area, they overlook that there is a great deal more history to discover prior to the pioneer days. Today, there are still Cherokee people in the area, but there is a difference between those who live today and the ancient Cherokee. Historians and archaeologists even have a specific way to describe them, calling them historic Cherokee since their land holdings actually ran from modern day Cincinnati over to Atlanta and eastward to Asheville, NC as well as westward towards Birmingham, AL. They lived through three different periods, known as the Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian, and visitors can see artifacts dating from all three eras of the historic Cherokee peoples.

It is difficult to imagine a time of hunters and gatherers in modern North America, but this is precisely what the historic Cherokee of the Smokies area were. They followed their animal game and foraged for wild foods. Artifacts include some of the actual arrowheads used in hunting, and even fishing tools and household tools like axes. They were also adept with clay pottery and built wooden structures in which to live.

If you want to learn all that you can about these historic people, the Center’s Native Americans of East Tennessee Collection is on permanent display at the Heritage Center and can be viewed whenever you pay a visit to this fascinating destination.