The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area abounds in dramatic cliffs, arches, and rockshelters. The region may contain more natural arches that any other region in the eastern United States. Natural arches are found frequently in the Big South Fork at the edges of the tableland surgace, there the resistant Rockcastle Conglomerate slowly succumbs to erosioin. Arches form along gorge edges where the resistant sandstone is able to support its own weight when layers below erode away. The rugged terrain and relatively infertile soils of the general Cumberland Plateau area resulted in its use as a transportation corridor and hunting area by the Native Americans who chose to live in the more fertile Tennessee and Ohio River valleys.
No remains of permanent Native American settlements have been found. Without question, however, the numerous shallow caves, or rock shelters, provided ready cover for temporary use. Unfortunately, through the years most of these sites have been looted by illegal "pot hunters." (NPS, 1996) No cultural chronologies exist for the National Area, but surveys indicate pre-European occupations spanning the early Paleo-Indian Stage cultures of 12,000 years ago to approximately 400 years ago. The number of archeological sites within the National Area is very large. It is estimated, based on sampling, that approximately 10,000 sites exist within the boundary. About one-half of the known sites are historic, i.e., post-contact, the rest being pre-European