The earliest known human occupation of the Chattahoochee Valley dates to roughly 13,000 years ago. At that time, people commonly lived in small groups in temporary settlements that were more like camps than established villages. Primarily hunter-gatherers who utilized simple stone tools, they moved often in search of food. As time progressed their societies became steadily more complex. By about three thousand years ago, settlements had become more permanent, tools more advanced, and trade for exotic items was beginning to take place over relatively long distances.
The Woodland Period (1000 BCE – 900 CE) was marked by the development of larger and more complex societies. Inhabitants began to establish the first substantial settlements in the region that relied increasingly on agriculture. The planting of seed crops and the establishment of complex trade networks facilitated the development of a stable population. The first forms of permanent constructed housing appeared during the era, as well as the beginnings of fortified mound centers that would become the hallmark of native societies in the region in the coming years.
Some of the most complex and highly stratified native societies in North American history developed during the Mississippian Period (1000 CE – 1550 CE). Many of these people were organized into chiefdoms that exerted influence over wide areas. These people cultivated a variety of crops in addition to hunting and fishing, practiced elaborate rituals, and produced a stunning variety of ceramic, stone, shell, and even metal objects that served both utilitarian and ceremonial functions. Mississippian settlements sometimes numbered in the thousands of inhabitants living in a central town, commonly on a major waterway, surrounded by numerous smaller villages.