Paleo-Indians were the first people to enter the Americas and Mississippi. Originally, it was thought that these people came across an ice-free corridor from Asia about thirteen thousand years ago. Now, however, some archaeologists believe that the first people arrived around twenty thousand years ago, and a few push the date as far back as fifty thousand years ago. At present we have no firm evidence for these early dates, and some scholars have recently suggested that these people may have come from Europe or Africa. Hard evidence is lacking.
The first people to enter Mississippi appear to have arrived about thirteen thousand years ago from the Northeast, according to evidence from chert, the material employed to manufacture their spear points. Most of the chert is from the Tennessee Valley, and none is from western sources, as would be expected if the people had come from Asia. They traveled south along the Tennessee, Tombigbee, and Mississippi Rivers and then moved east up the tributary streams into the interior of what is now the state. Another factor that suggests an eastern origin for these people is that thousands of their distinctive spear points have been found in the East, while only hundreds have been found in the West.
Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers who arrived near the end of the ice age, when many now-extinct animals were still present. The Indians’ spear points and other tools have been found at a number of sites, but remarkably few skeletal remains of humans have been recovered. In the western United States some of these spear points have been recovered with animal skeletons—mostly wooly mammoth and bison. Killing such large animals with spears tipped with stone was dangerous work and is a testament to the Paleo-Indians’ hunting prowess. The extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna is a mystery. Some people have attributed the extinction to the Paleo-Indians, but several smaller species went extinct at this time, as did species that were certainly not prey animals. Most researchers now believe that climate changes combined with other factors contributed to the extinctions during this period.
- Samuel O. McGahey, in The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast, ed. David G. Anderson and Kenneth E. Sassaman (1996)