UA’S MOUNDVILLE MUSEUM CELEBRATES 75 YEARS // YOU ARE INVITED

It’s a birthday celebration, and one you don’t want to miss. The University of Alabama’s Jones Museum at Moundville Archaeological Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

It began as Dr. Walter B. Jones’ idea. With the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, that idea became reality. But it was not an easy task.

Construction of the museum began in February 1937 with only a small side camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the 200-man Corps unit arrived in June the following year, the museum’s foundation had been completed, and, in less than a year, the project was finished.

During the museum’s May 16, 1939 dedication, Robert Fechner, director of the Civilian Conservation Corps, gave the keys of the museum to Jones.

“Without former State Geologist Walter B. Jones, the museum would simply not exist,” said Betsy Irwin, education outreach coordinator for the park. “It is entirely possible that the Moundville site, this amazing piece of our heritage, would have been destroyed.

“Hundreds of thousands of visitors, the majority of them school children, would never have known that this remarkable prehistoric society once thrived in our own backyard,” Irwin said. “I think Walter B. Jones would be proud of the renovated exhibits in the Jones Archaeological Museum. It’s amazing how much has been learned about the ancient Moundvillians and Southeastern Indians since the museum opened in 1939.”

It began as a reinforced concrete structure consisting of a central gallery and two wings. The building was only to be 160 feet long and 60 feet wide, but it would house displays interpreting the culture and characteristics of the Indians who lived at Moundville. The wings were placed over burial groups that had only recently been exposed by excavations.

In 1999, The University of Alabama Museums began a comprehensive effort to rebuild and redefine the museum, resulting in a $5 million renovation completed in 2010. Today, the museum combines the latest technology with more than 200 stunning artifacts to describe one of the most significant Native American archaeological sites in the United States.

“Starting with the tireless efforts of community members over 75 years ago, countless individuals have worked to preserve this nationally significant site and tell the story of the ancient Moundville people through exhibits in the Jones Museum,” said Dr. William Bomar, interim executive director of University Museums and director of Moundville Archaeological Park.

The scaffolding is in place for the installation of the frieze March 6, 1939.

The scaffolding is in place for the installation of the frieze March 6, 1939.

“Exploring the spectacular Moundville site is a wonderful outdoor experience, but the focus of our interpretation remains the park’s museum, where several hundred fantastic works of Moundville art made right here at this site over 800 years ago, are displayed in engaging, immersive exhibits,” Bomar said.

“Today, around 25,000 people visit Moundville Archaeological Park annually from all over the United States, and many other countries,” he said. “They continue to be amazed by this fantastic site, and most comment about how wonderful our museum is.”

The celebration runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features art, craft and technology demonstrations, as well as dance and storytelling performances. Participants include renowned shell carver Dan Townsend (Muscogee Nation of Florida – Tallahassee), ancient weapons expert Bill Skinner (Thomaston), potter Chip Wente (Livingston), textile artist Cat Sloan (Cherokee – Warrior), living historian Robert Thrower (Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Poarch Band of Creek Indians), cultural demonstrator Margaret Baggett (Poarch Band of Creek Indians – Atmore), hoop dancer Lyndon Alec (Alabama – Livingston, Texas) and storyteller Amy Blumel (Chickasaw Nation – Ada, Oklahoma). Rebecca Alec will make frybread, a traditional Native American food, for visitors to sample.

Additionally, UA Museum’s Office of Archaeological Research is sponsoring a table promoting the Alabama Archaeological Society. Visitors are welcome to bring any artifacts they may have for archaeologists to identify. At this table, children can also learn how to reconstruct a broken pot or match genuine ancient pottery fragments with the type of tools that might have decorated them.

Another integral part of the celebration that day is a modest exhibition focused on Moundville Archaeological Park’s evolution and development. The main exhibit is open to the public in the Jones Archaeological Museum. Old photos, posters and logos feature the Civilian Conservation Corps work and the local community’s interactions with the Moundville site.

Patrons of the Tuscaloosa Public Library’s main branch, as well as the Moundville Public Library, can get previews on kiosks installed at each facility in April. The exhibit will remain until 2014′s end.

Rounding out the anniversary activities, a public lecture series emphasizing Moundville, its history and other scholarly research kicks off in the fall of 2014.

During the series, Bob Pasquill, archaeologist with the USDA Forest Service and author of “The Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama,” will discuss the contributions the CCC made to the Moundville site and the Jones Museum. Dr. F. Kent Reilly III, anthropology professor at Texas State University, San Marcos, and director of the Center for the Study of Arts and Symbolism in Ancient America will speak about Moundville’s iconography. Iconography is the science of identifying, describing, classifying and interpreting symbols, themes and subject matter on objects of art.

This display at the remodeled Jones Archaeological Museum depicts the arrival of an ancient bridal party.

This display at the remodeled Jones Archaeological Museum depicts the arrival of an ancient bridal party.

Reilly served as the guest curator for the Jones Archaeological Museum’s revitalized exhibit, “Lost Realm of the Black Warrior.” Many of the symbols on Moundville artwork relate to Native American understandings of the cosmos and constellations. Other presenting scholars, as well as the dates and times of these lectures, are still to be announced.

The Moundville Native American Festival started in 1989 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the museum’s opening. This year marks the festival’s 25th anniversary. Representatives from Southeastern Indian tribes will give brief speeches about what the Moundville site means to them as part of a ceremony held in honor of the festival.

“Moundville Archaeological Park is undoubtedly the most important prehistoric site in Alabama,” Irwin said. “The massive amount of labor and skill involved in leveling the plaza and constructing the mounds reflects the sophistication of the ancient people who once lived here. Less than 15 percent of the site has been excavated, making Moundville the best preserved site of its kind.

“This is very important to Native Americans, many of whom consider these mounds to be sacred,” Irwin said. “In close consultation with Southeastern Indian tribes, we developed the Jones Museum exhibits to reflect their culture from the past as accurately as possible. Moundville and the Jones Archaeological Museum are both treasures that belong to everyone.”

“Throw back” admission for the May 10 celebration is 25 cents for children and 50 cents for adults, the same rate that was charged when the museum first opened. Regular admission is $6 for children and $8 for adults. Moundville Archaeological Park is 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa off of Alabama Highway 69. For more information, phone 371-2234, or visit moundville.ua.edu.

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