People lived in what is now Tennessee as early as 12,000 years ago. As the ice age ended, conifer trees gave way to deciduous forest. The people who then inhabited the area began to settle on river terraces and establish permanent, towns, some surrounded by walls. They also built complex ceremonial sites such as Old Stone Fort. The word Tennessee likely comes from a Cherokee town named Tanasi, which may itself have been a modification of a Tsoyaha (Yuchi) word meaning “meeting place” or “winding river.” The Cherokee are an Iroquoian speaking people who likely originated in the Great Lakes region and migrated south. The Cherokee Nation is the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States.
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