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Title: Mound State Monument, Moundville, Alabama
Author: History, Alabama Museum of Natural
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         _Mound State Monument_
                           MOUNDVILLE ALABAMA

                     _Museum Paper_ 20 (_Revised_)

    [Illustration: Decorative border]

                         Archaeological Museum


  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[1]  Great prehistoric city grows and thrives on banks of
                Warrior River, West-Central Alabama.
  1500[1]       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
  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

[1]Approximate dates.

                          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

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


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

    [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.


Their houses.

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.


Their food.

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.

Their implements.

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.




Their religion.

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

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.


Other activities.

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.

                           MOUNDVILLE POTTERY

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.




     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.


                               The Mounds

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.

                           Prehistoric Lakes

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.


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.]


                       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.

Burial groups.

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.



                       HOW TO REACH THE MONUMENT

By automobile.

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


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: Visiting group]

                      MAP OF MOUND STATE MONUMENT


                         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

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

    [Illustration: View of mound, lake, and museum]




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

                            PICNIC 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]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—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

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