Mound State Monument, Moundville, Alabama by Alabama Museum of Natural History
_Mound State Monument_ MOUNDVILLE ALABAMA
_Museum Paper_ 20 (_Revised_)
[Illustration: Decorative border]
Archaeological Museum Cover The Prehistoric Inhabitants of Moundville 3 Their Physical Appearance 3 Their Dress and Ornamentation 4 Their Houses 4 Their Food 5 Their Implements 5 Their Religion 7 Other Activities 8 Their Burial Customs 8 Moundville Indian Pottery 8 What to See at Mound State Monument 12 How to Reach the Monument 16 Administration of the Monument 16 Map of Mound State Monument 18 Rules and Regulations 19 Erskine Ramsay Archaeological Research Center 21 Picnic Facilities 21
1200-1400 Great prehistoric city grows and thrives on banks of Warrior River, West-Central Alabama. 1500 City deserted. 1897 Town of Carthage, white settlement at site of deserted city, renamed Moundville because of numerous Indian mounds within its limits. 1905-1906 First archaeological excavations made at Moundville by Clarence B. Moore of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. 1923 Moundville Historical Society organized to arouse interest in preservation of mounds. Mrs. Jeff Powers, Jr., President. 1929 Alabama Museum of Natural History begins archaeological investigations at Moundville after purchasing 175 acres which include most of the 40 mounds in that area. 1933 Mound State Park established with the aid of the Federal Emergency Conservation Work Agency. 1935 Temporary museum building constructed at Mound State Park. 1938-39 Alabama Museum purchases additional land, enlarging Mound State Park to 301 acres which includes all the mounds in the area. 1938 Mound State Park renamed Mound State Monument. Civilian Conservation Corps, directed by National Park Service and the Alabama Museum of Natural History, begins large-scale development of area. 1939 May 10, New Archaeological Museum dedicated. 1947 September 24, Dedication of Laboratory Unit of Erskine Ramsay Archaeological Research Center. 1949 Completion of Picnic Building: Memorial to Nelson Jones.
MOUND STATE MONUMENT
• _OPEN ALL YEAR_ •
[Illustration: Museum building]
_A blisful lyf, a paisible and a swete, Ledden the peples in the former age_ —_Chaucer, Former Age, line 2_
The Black Warrior River winds slowly among the rolling southern foothills. On the banks of this river many centuries ago there flourished a great Indian metropolis. Here dwelt a pleasant and contented people whose story is not of warring braves but of peaceful artisans. Theirs were days not of strife and treachery, but of quiet toil and worship. These people, given to pottery-making and the building of fine temples, have vanished long ago. The eloquence of their handiwork endures. Their pottery, lodged in the muddy earth, emerges as fresh proof that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Their temples, decayed these many years, are yet in evidence, for the pyramidal substructures of these temples—earth mounds of imposing size and number—remain.
The mounds and the story of the people who built them, a story recorded in clay and stone and native metal, are preserved today at Mound State Monument.
THE PREHISTORIC INHABITANTS OF MOUNDVILLE
Their physical appearance.
The Indians dwelling in the ancient city, though of medium stature, were well built and muscular. Their faces were finely molded and handsome.
Considered stylish were “flattened heads”. Head-flattening was caused by strapping the young Indian to a wooden cradle board. The pressure of the leather thongs on the soft bones of the baby’s head caused a flattening which remained throughout life. Such a head seems to have become a mark of good rearing, and greatly to be desired, for many mothers went so far as to strap sand bags on their children’s heads to induce this flattening.
[Illustration: A Moundville Indian skull that was not flattened.]
[Illustration: This Moundville Indian skull shows the result of artificial head-flattening.]
Their dress and ornamentation.
Leather and fabrics woven of vegetable fibres were fashioned into garments. In extremely cold weather robes made of feathers may have been worn over the rest of their clothing.
The Moundville Indians, both men and women, were fond of personal adornment. They wore ear plugs, bracelets and arm bands of copper, and beads and pendants of bone, stone, shell and copper. Many of their pendants, carved with intricate and delicate designs, would invoke the envy of women of today. Long hairpins were made of bone, and considerable time was devoted to hairdressing.
[Illustration: A STONE PENDANT ONCE WORN BY A MOUNDVILLE INDIAN.]
From virgin forests the Moundville Indians gathered logs and poles to construct frameworks for their homes. Of reeds and canes gathered along the river they wove house walls, plastering them with thick coatings of moistened sand and clay. Thatched roofs were made of heavy swamp grass. A hole was left in the center to serve as a chimney. The floors were of hard-packed clay frequently covered with sand. These structures were neat, comfortable and weatherproof.
[Illustration: SHELL BEADS WHICH ONCE ADORNED A MOUNDVILLE INDIAN.]
Living in a temperate climate amid forests teeming with wild game and streams abundant with fish, the Moundville Indians had little difficulty, experienced few uncertainties, in obtaining their food. In addition to meat and fish obtained from forest and stream there were vegetables from fertile fields which produced with little man-made effort an ample supply of maize, squash, beans and pumpkins.
A community of skilled artisans, these people fashioned many tools for food-getting, shelter-making and clothing-manufacture as well as for more aesthetic pursuits. With nets woven of vegetable fibre and barbless fishhooks of bone and copper they took fish from nearby streams and lakes. With small, skillfully chipped arrowheads they brought down fowl. Ingenious traps ensnared large game. Stone fleshers were used for stripping the meat and dressing the leather. With bone awls and needles sharpened on grinding stones they sewed leather garments. Stone mortars and pestles pulverized their grain. Stone chisels and axes felled, with the aid of fire, trees for their homes and temples. Cups and forks and spoons carved from shell were their cooking and eating utensils.
[Illustration: A MOUNDVILLE INDIAN’S SHELL CUP.]
[Illustration: COPPER FISHHOOK USED AT MOUNDVILLE IN PREHISTORIC TIMES.]
[Illustration: A MEMENTO OF ABORIGINAL RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES AT MOUNDVILLE.]
Of paramount importance to the Moundville Indian was his religion. The mounds, on which he worshiped, are enduring monuments to the strength and fervor of his faith. Tons and tons of clay, loam and sand he carried to form these towering structures. Atop the earth pyramids he built great wooden temples and special dwelling houses for chieftans and priests.
Ceremonies performed in the temples were elaborate and colorful. Priests attired in symbolic costumes, and bearing numerous esoteric accoutrements, directed the rituals. Ceremonial trappings included beautiful copper breast plates, shell gorgets, and stone discs and pendants, all delicately carved with intricate, allegorical designs. Among these designs were depictions of the skull and arm-bone, the hand and all-seeing eye, entwined rattlesnakes, and the horned or plumed serpent. Similar designs are found in the symbolic art of the Indians of Central America and Mexico, the Mayas and Aztecs.
[Illustration: PIPES WHICH THE MOUNDVILLE INDIANS MOLDED FROM CLAY.]
Games and contests were popular among the Moundville Indians. One favorite game had the combined features of our football and baseball. Another was similar to a combination of bowling and shuffleboard.
Tobacco-smoking was practiced not as a habit but as a ceremony. Beautiful pipes—some carved from stone, others molded from clay—were smoked through a long cane stem, the bowl resting on the ground. Some pipes were shaped to resemble the human body. Others were carved or molded in the shape of birds, animals and insects.
Their burial customs.
The dead were buried with care and respect. Belief in immortality was expressed by placing material goods near the deceased to sustain him in the other world. His treasured belongings, usually pottery vessels, beads, bracelets and other ornaments, were buried with him.
The Moundville Indian built no burial mounds. His dead were buried in cemetery areas within the city. Usually burial was made in a pit large enough to accommodate the body at full length. Sometimes, however, burial was made in a small pit, the body being drawn up in a flexed position. Burial of the skeleton after it had been stripped of flesh was sometimes practiced.
The very nature of the Moundville Indian’s surroundings provided security and leisure. His time was not consumed in constant search for food and warmth, and to squander his time, grow fat and lazy, was not in him. His skill and versatility required expression, which he found in the art of pottery-making.
[Illustration: THE MOUNDVILLE POTTER WAS A SKILLED CRAFTSMAN.]
[Illustration: VARIETY OF FORM CHARACTERIZES MOUNDVILLE POTTERY.]
[Illustration: POTTERY BEAKER WITH A SYMBOLIC DESIGN.
After the beaker was removed from the ground by the archaeologist the incised lines were filled with white paint in order to emphasize the design.]
He manufactured great quantities of pottery for domestic use. Moistening clay which he took from the river bank, he kneaded into it particles of crushed shell. This was to keep the molded clay from cracking when it hardened. He shaped the clay into jars, pots, bowls and other utilitarian objects, hardening them with fire. This domestic ware was plain, bearing no decoration.
It was through non-utilitarian ware, exquisitely decorated, that the Moundville Indian wrought careful and lasting expression of his artistry. The potter used only his finest clay for this ware. After forming the clay into some delicately molded vessel, then hardening it with fire, he dipped the vessel into a black “wash” which coated it with a smooth, black film. The coloring agent contained in this “wash” was derived, indirectly, from plants.
Usually the potter decorated the vessel with some intricate design, often incising the lines on the vessel before it was hardened, at other times scratching them on the hardened vessel. Sometimes the etched or incised lines of the design were filled with red paint, derived from iron ore, which gave the design a striking appearance on the polished black surface of the vessel.
Water bottles, bowls, pots, shallow dishes, and effigy vessels were made of this thin, black ware. Their forms included frog, duck, beaver, rabbit, eagle, bat, owl, fish, shell and even human shapes.
Designs incised or engraved on this ware depicted the plumed or horned serpent, the ivory-billed woodpecker, eagle, sun, human hand and eye, skull and armbones, and numerous others.
Sometimes vessels were decorated with red and white paint (derived from iron and lead ore) instead of being “washed” black. This type of decoration was not common, however.
WHAT TO SEE AT MOUND STATE MONUMENT
The present-day visitor to Mound State Monument may see, on the 300-acre Monument tract, 40 mounds which are the remnants of the Moundville Indians’ great city.
The visitor will be interested in identifying these mounds as _domiciliary_ (as distinguished from burial mounds and effigy mounds found at other Indian sites). These domiciliary mounds, which were erected as substructures for temples and other important buildings, are rectangular truncated-pyramids. Their sizes vary. The largest, called Mound “B” (see map), is 58½ feet high and covers almost two acres.
The several lakes within the Monument area are restorations, made after considerable research, of prehistoric reservoirs. The forty- to sixty-foot bluff at the ancient city’s river front made the Warrior River an impractical source of water supply. These lakes, therefore, may have been used to catch and hold water for daily use and for fishing.
ERSKINE RAMSAY ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH CENTER
Already constructed through the generosity of Dr. Erskine Ramsay, Birmingham, Alabama, Honorary Chairman of the Board of Regents of the Museum, is a large and spacious laboratory building, in which all archaeological material comprising the Museum’s vast collection is suitably and adequately housed. Space is available for students to study any phase of the subject in which they may be interested. (See photograph on page 20.)
Also completed in the Research Center is one cottage in which a married student might be housed during the period of his studies.
Yet to be constructed are two cottages, a dormitory for unmarried students, and a house for the resident archaeologist.
[Illustration: MOUND “B” AND VISITORS.]
[Illustration: RESTORED PREHISTORIC LAKE AT MOUND STATE MONUMENT.]
The Archaeological Museum
The archaeological museum houses an exhibit hall and two _in situ_ burial groups. The exhibit hall makes up the main part of the building. The in situ burial groups are enclosed in wings at the north and south ends of the exhibit hall.
Design of the building itself was based on ideas used by the Moundville Indian in shaping and decorating his artifacts. The classic three-step motif expressed in the three roof levels of the museum, and used over the doorway, was a favorite design element of the Moundville artist. The skull and arm-bone design making up the parapet frieze was copied from a design on a Moundville Indian pot (_see photograph on p._ 11). The medallion over the entrance is an enlarged reproduction of a stone pendant once owned by a Moundville Indian (_see photograph on p._ 4). This pendant as well as the pot from which the frieze was copied may be seen in the exhibit hall.
Main exhibit hall.
Displays in the exhibit hall are designed to illustrate (1) a brief history of prehistoric man, (2) cultural traits and physical characteristics of the prehistoric Moundvillian, and (3) physical features of Mound State Monument.
A brief story of prehistoric mankind is given in the three wall cases to the visitor’s left as he enters the museum. Cultural traits of the Moundville Indian are illustrated in the eight cases along the back wall, and in the five table cases in the exhibit hall. Physical features of Mound State Monument are depicted in the three wall cases to the visitor’s left as he leaves the museum.
The north wing of the museum (to the Visitor’s left as he enters the building) encloses seventeen _in situ_ burials. The south wing (to the visitor’s left as he leaves the building) encloses forty such burials. These fifty-seven burials, together with their accompanying pottery, ornaments and other artifacts, have been uncovered and left in the ground exactly as they were found.
These burials had been placed in a cemetery area, not a mound. Most of the burials were approximately one and one-half feet under the surface of the ground, although some were only four inches underground and others were three feet. The original ground-level is demonstrated in the exhibit by lines drawn around the edges of the pits.
Studies of Moundville skeletal remains have revealed the sex and individual age (_i.e._, how old the individual was at the time of burial) of each burial, as well as certain physical defects. Effects of head-flattening, a practice described elsewhere on these pages, are apparent on many of the skulls.
[Illustration: IN SITU BURIALS IN NORTH WING OF MUSEUM.]
[Illustration: IN SITU BURIALS IN SOUTH WING OF MUSEUM. BURIALS HAVE BEEN UNCOVERED AND LEFT IN THE GROUND JUST AS THEY WERE FOUND.]
HOW TO REACH THE MONUMENT
Mound State Monument is located on Alabama Highway No. 13 (paved) at the edge of the town of Moundville, Alabama, seventeen miles south of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The dividing line of Tuscaloosa and Hale Counties runs through the Monument area.
By train or bus.
Moundville Alabama, is located on the A.G.S. Railroad, a part of the Southern Railway System, which operates passenger trains between New York and New Orleans _via_ Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Moundville and Meridian. Greyhound buses running from Tuscaloosa to Mobile pass through Moundville.
ADMINISTRATION OF MOUND STATE MONUMENT
Mound State Monument is owned by the Alabama Museum of Natural History, University, Alabama.
The Monument is open daily, including Sundays and holidays, from 8:00 A.M. until dark, the year around. A caretaker, equipped to guide the visitor and offer any other assistance, resides on the Monument grounds.
A small admission charge is made to the Monument Museum. Special rates are available to groups provided reservations and arrangements are made in advance. Free showing of sound movies illustrating Moundville Indian culture may be arranged for at the Administration Building. Arrangements for group visits should be made by addressing: The Curator, Alabama Museum of Natural History, University, Alabama.
[Illustration: Museum building and pond]
[Illustration: SPECIAL VISITS BY SCHOOL CLASSES AND OTHER CIVIC GROUPS MAY BE ARRANGED.]
[Illustration: Visiting group]
MAP OF MOUND STATE MONUMENT
[Illustration: MOUNDS ARE DESIGNATED BY LETTERS.]
RULES AND REGULATIONS • Briefed •
Mound State Monument exists as an instrument for PRESERVATION. Visitors are requested to aid the Monument administration by carefully observing the following regulations. These rules are enforced for the comfort and convenience of the visitor as well as for the protection of scenic and archaeologic features.
Monument roadways are altogether recreational in character and the speed of vehicle traffic is therefore limited to 15 miles per hour. Drive carefully for the protection of yourself and other visitors.
The Monument is a wildlife sanctuary. Birds and animals must not be molested. HUNTING AND FISHING ARE PROHIBITED. Firearms or air rifles must not be carried within the Monument boundaries.
Trees and shrubs must not be broken. Do not carve initials on or pull the bark from trees. Flowers must not be picked. _The injury or defacement of any natural feature is prohibited._
Private Operators and Advertising.
To solicit or sell anything, no matter of what nature, except by persons holding contract with Mound State Monument is prohibited.
No advertising, or distribution of placards or advertising matter, is permitted on the Monument grounds.
Fires are one of the greatest perils to the natural features of the Monument. Smokers are requested to exercise care in the disposal of matches, cigarettes _etc. Picknickers must confine fires to designated areas and extinguish them completely before leaving._
All visitors are welcome to utilize the public picnic area and campground. Picnicking must be confined to sites designated by the caretaker.
Do not throw paper, lunch refuse or other trash on the roads, trails, or elsewhere. Deposit all such debris in the receptacles provided for that purpose. Picnickers may burn combustible rubbish in incinerators.
Special permission must be obtained to use picnic areas after dark.
Buildings and Archaeologic Features.
To mar or deface any building, or to mark, disturb or injure any archaeologic feature on the Monument grounds, is a violation of the law.
Caretaker and Guides.
The caretaker and guides are here to help and advise you as well as to enforce regulations. Consult them about anything pertaining to the Monument.
[Illustration: View of mound, lake, and museum]
[Illustration: ERSKINE RAMSAY ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH LABORATORY.]
[Illustration: PICNIC BUILDING, MEMORIAL TO NELSON JONES.]
ERSKINE RAMSAY ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH CENTER
As mentioned earlier, the laboratory unit and one cottage of the Research Center have been completed. Archaeological material, including skeletons from the Museum’s extensive excavations in the Tennessee Valley Region in Alabama, its earlier work in Eastern Arkansas, surface collections from all over Alabama and from scattered excavations in many parts of the state, has been assembled in especially designed storage racks in the main part of the building. Our plan is to have all of the Museum’s archaeological material, photographs, field notes, and library at this central point, where any part of it may be studied and comparisons made with other parts. Archaeologists are invited to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded.
Artifacts of clay, bone, shell, copper, flint, and stone are packed in pasteboard cartons which are numbered according to site and type of material. Skeletal material is packed in butter tubs and pasteboard cartons. All bones have been carefully cleaned, soaked in permanent hardener, and catalogued. All records of excavations, surveys, profiles, field notes, topographic sheets, index catalogues, et cetera are also housed in the building.
We are proud to have such a fine lot of material available in one building.
This building, on a high bluff overlooking the Warrior River, was covered in the original master plan for the area. It was made possible through a large donation by two friends of the Museum who wish that their identity be withheld.
The central section of the building is equipped with banquet type tables and folding chairs, having a seating capacity of about 200. In the west wing is a fully equipped kitchen and large barbecue pit. In the east wing are rest rooms, with outside entrances.
Around the building is a large concrete terrace which is equipped with portable tables and built-on seats, each with a capacity of eight people. The terrace will accommodate about 300 people.
Through special arrangement with the Director, the Curator, or the Park Manager, the building may be reserved for picnic groups having their own lunches, or for parties wishing to use kitchen facilities.
Charges for school groups with their own lunches: 10c each; for other parties having their own food: $5.00 minimum, or 10c each, whichever amount is the larger; with somewhat more being charged for use of kitchen facilities, depending upon type of food preparation required.
Coca-Cola dispensing machine is available in the building.
[Illustration: Back cover]
—Silently corrected a few typos.
—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook is public-domain in the country of publication.
—Collated Table of Contents against actual headings, and added one entry to make them correspond.
—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by _underscores_.