Newcomers In A New World
Since the first excavation here in 1953, it has been thought that the cave was used in winter by people who in warmer months moved to villages along the Tennessee River. But the evidence is not conclusive, and it seems likely that some groups used it as a permanent home, perhaps for years at a time. Others did use it as winter quarters, while for year-round nomads it was simply a convenient stopover.
The archeological evidence does indicate that in the 1,000 years before European contact in the 16th century, the cave was used primarily as a hunting camp. Most groups inhabiting the cave would probably have numbered no more than 15 to 30-their size limited by the need for mobility and by how many people the land could sustain. They were likely extended families or several related families.
Certainly some groups would have used the cave year after year, but varying styles of spear and arrow points tell us that it was inhabited by different bands. Twenty-four burials have been found in the cave, ranging from an infant to a 40- to 50- year-old woman. From the remains it appears that these people were short and muscular. In appearance that probably resembled the peoples Europeans first encountered in the 16th century.
Did You Know?
The atlatl, a spear thrower, was used for hunting at Russell Cave National Monument. This tool multiplies the force and distance of the spear and acts as an arm extension. The archeological evidence at this site includes deer antler hooks, deer antler handles, and stone weights.