When you think of the great rivers of the world, the Nile, Thames, and Yangtze rivers might come to mind. You might also picture the mighty Mississippi, which flows through the middle of the United States. And while these profound rivers are ancient, they are not necessarily the oldest. The Finke River in Central Australia is technically the oldest river in the world at 400 million years old! But what about the oldest river in the United States? The Mississippi is millions of years old. But a few rivers predate its existence. Discover the three United States rivers older than the Mississippi River, including their locations and timelines.
About the Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the heart of America in many ways, from history to literature and music. The river drains over 40 percent of the country and runs from Minnesota to the Louisiana Delta. It is the second-longest river in the United States and one of the largest by volume discharge on Earth. It is a central artery in America and one of the busiest waterways, not just in the U.S. but in the world. The Mississippi has played an integral role in human civilization back to the Native American hunter-gatherers. And later, early European settlers.
Just a few years ago, many believed the Mississippi River to be around 20 million years old. But new research gained from studying zircon fragments estimates the Mississippi to be around 70 million years old. Dinosaurs were still alive when this river was formed; they may have even drank from it.
Here is an excellent article that breaks down the age, timeline, and history of the Mississippi River.
As ancient as this river is, three more in America are older. Here are three rivers in the United States older than the Mississippi.
1. French Broad River
The French Broad River is the oldest river in the United States and the third oldest in the world, behind the Finke (Australia) and Meuse (Europe) rivers. It’s older than the mountains that surround it and even predate the age of the dinosaurs.
It is unclear exactly how old the French Broad River is, but some estimates put it between 320 million and 340 million years old. The river was formed by the Alleghenian orogeny, a geologic event that formed the Appalachian Mountains.
The French Broad River cuts through ancient rocks in the Southern Appalachians. But due to the mountain’s topography, which is relatively new, it is difficult to determine the exact age of the river.
The river’s headwaters are in Rosman, North Carolina near the South Carolina border. It flows east through the Appalachians and Asheville, North Carolina, before entering Tennessee and flowing out into the Tennesse River near Knoxville.
2. New River
The New River is another ancient body of water in the United States, with an estimated age between 260 million and 325 million years old. It, too, was formed by the same geologic event as the French Broad River over 320 million years ago. However, other estimates put the New River around 360 million years old, making it the second oldest in the world. But these claims are not proven as of yet.
The river flows north, winding through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. It begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, flowing through the Great Appalachian Valley, cutting through the Appalachian Plateau, before flowing into the Gauley River in West Virginia. At this confluence, the Kanawha River begins, which eventually empties into the Ohio River.
3. Susquehanna River
The French Broad, New, and Susquehanna Rivers were all formed by the Alleghenian orogeny and dissect the Appalachian Mountains.
Geologists estimate the Susquehanna River to be between 260 million and 325 million years old, with most agreeing it is likely over 300 million. It would have been a well-established river during the Mesozoic era over 200 million years ago. It is the longest river on the East Coast, measuring over 400 miles.
The Susquehanna River features two primary branches. The North Branch begins in Cooperstown, New York, where it is considered the headwaters. The West Branch, which is the second main artery, starts in Western Pennsylvania. The two merge in Central Pennsylvania, and the river empties into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
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