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The Appalachians: low mountains covered with pine trees and a lake

The Appalachian Mountains

When did the Appalachian Mountains form?

About 300 million years ago, near the end of the Carboniferous period, when the first reptiles were evolving, the tectonic plates began to form the supercontinent of Pangaea.

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The Carboniferous period
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How high were the Appalachians when they were new?

When the Euramerica continent smashed into Gondwanaland, that pushed up the land to make the Appalachian Mountains. When they were new, the Appalachians may have been really tall: as tall as the Himalayas are now! But nobody was around to see it – only those very early reptiles. This was even before there were dinosaurs. But the Appalachians would still have been very tall in the time of the dinosaurs.

Where are the Appalachian Mountains?

A map showing which states the Appalachian Mountains run through

Appalachian Mountains map

The Appalachians run along the East Coast of the United States of America. They run from north to south, through part of Canada and the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Among the oldest mountains in the world

These Appalachian mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world. They have eroded over the years, so they aren’t very high anymore, and they don’t even have snow on them in the summertime. Probably the great glacial sheets of the Ice Ages helped to scrape the tops off these mountains and level them out.

Learn more about erosion

The Appalachians are about the same age as the Ural mountains that separate Asia from Europe, but they are far older than the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rockies, or even the Andes, which are the next oldest major mountains.

What kinds of rocks make up the Appalachians?

The oldest rocks of the Appalachians were compressed into metamorphic rocks. There’s a lot of granite, marble, and slate. There was also a lot of coal. But the later parts of the Appalachians are made of sedimentary rocks: sandstone, limestone, and shale . In places, the limestone has eroded away to make big caves.

History of coal

Which Native people lived in the Appalachian mountains?

Cherokee fishing weir: a sort of stone fish trap in a river

Cherokee fishing weir on the Little Tennessee River in Macon County. (Thanks to Ralph Preston)

In historical times, Native American people lived all along the Appalachian mountains. The furthest south were the Cherokee and the Shawnee, then the Iroquois, and in the north the Algonquin.

The Appalachians and the United States

For a long time, the Appalachians formed the edge of where English settlers lived in North America. Native people controlled the land west of the Appalachians. All through the 1500s, the 1600s, and the 1700s, white people pretty much stayed east of the Appalachians. All of the 13 original states are east of the Appalachians.

13 original states

The white people who did move to this border land were poor farmers looking for cheap land. Or they were people who wanted to stay away from governments and live without laws (or both). A lot of them came originally from Scotland, another wild border area with hills.

Settlers cross the Appalachians

After the American Revolution, though, white people wanted to get more and more land. In the late 1700s and the 1800s, people crossed the Appalachians and started to settle on the other side.

American Revolution

They killed or pushed out the Native people who lived there. Many Native people had to move to the Great Plains. As people started to burn coal for fuel, they opened up huge mines in the Appalachian mountains to dig out the coal there.

The Appalachian Mountains today

The mountains are still beautiful today, but a lot of the people who live in the Appalachians are still poor. There is less coal mining than there used to be, and machines do more of the work now. It’s hard to get into the mountains, and hard to get things out, so there aren’t very many good jobs there.

Looking for a second source about the Appalachians? Check out the excellent article in the Encyclopedia Britannica!

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the Appalachians? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by Doing – Graph the height of mountain chains
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