To characterize the evolving stages of civilization in southeastern America before European contact, archeologists have established a general cultural sequence: Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian.
For most of Russell Cave's 10,000 years of human use, its inhabitants were in the Archaic stage. The cave was one of thousands of southeastern Archaic sites. Recent evidence indicates that the earliest users of the cave were actually at the transitional stage between Paleo and Archaic. During the Paleo period they still depended to a great extent on hunting large animals rather than exploiting a wider range of resources.