Though the era when Native Americans were the only souls in North America lasted thousands of years longer than the civilization that exists here today, this age of history is mostly absent from everyday life in Alabama. Looking around you might ask: where are the Indians or Native Americans now? The answer is that they are still with us in our genes both as “full blooded” and “mixed.” Many of us claim Cherokee or Choctaw or other tribe ancestors. Geneticists even run tests that reveal traits in our DNA that probably came from Native Americans somewhere along the line of our ancestry. The Native American Festival at the Moundville Archaeological Park is an opportunity to learn about the overlooked culture, art and history of this land’s original inhabitants.
Living history presenters will demonstrate housing, cooking, fire making, trading, clothing, pottery making and other aspects of this heritage. They will describe the lives of people in ancient, prehistoric times, and relay written and oral histories that come from the area. Some will demonstrate the making of “points” (spear and arrow heads) using the same types of tools that ancient craftsmen employed. Others will show the making of and uses of the atlatl, spear, and long bow put them all together for a hunting demonstration. Many of the presenters will be real Indians or claim some of that ancestry as their own.
Unlike the Indians of the western part of our country, the Indians of the Southeast lived in semi-permanent structures and were not typically nomadic. The compound of the Moundville Archaeological Park was originally enclosed in a two-mile palisade of logs set on ends in a ditch around one side of the city, bordered on the other side by the Black Warrior River in a roughly square pattern. The decayed long ago but the trench has disturbed soil that still holds evidence of a path closely studied and mapped out by archaeologists. Many citizens of that city (name unknown) lived inside the fortifications while others lived outside along the Black Warrior River, at least as far north as the river banks across from the University of Alabama, as revealed by evidence from archaeological digs. The people of the region farmed, hunted and gathered food to provide for the community.
The famous Rattle Snake Disk on display in the Jones Archaeological Museum at the park was crafted from sandstone, apparently quarried in ancient times at an out-cropping near UA and transported via canoe to the park area. A farmer near the park uncovered the disk in one piece while plowing his field, and the artifact made its way to the Smithsonian National Museum in 1883. The entwined snakes and open eye engraved on the disk have been interpreted by some archaeologists to represent a pathway to an inter-dimensional world.
A “Three Sisters” demonstration garden has been planted near one of the mounds. The three sisters: corn (maize), squash and beans, a perfect, plentiful triad that Native Americans planted together. Stalks of corn provided a structure for the beans to climb and squash were planted around the bottom of the corn plant, maximizing the space on one, low mound of dirt. Once Europeans came to the area and grew plants in rows, the Indians adopted that technique and their iron and steel tools. Copper was the only metal available to the Native Americans at that time, and that metal was too soft to be used for plowing equipment.
Much effort has been used toward preserving the compound and any artifacts that may be found there. However, many items have been removed with poor or no scientific process before being legally preserved.
Moundville Archaeological Park can be found by traveling south on Highway 69 for about 10 miles from Tuscaloosa’s city limit. The Native American Festival time for visiting is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Traditionally, many 4th grade students have looked forward to the festival as a field trip, so many youngsters will be touring with teachers and parents. Of course, students of all ages will be exploring the park as well. Many adults in Alabama may remember the trip as a fun day away from school and an introduction to the world of the original inhabitants of this area.
Enjoy and explore Alabama with a trip to Moundville Archaeological Park October 8 through 11 and learn about the culture of the Native Americans who once lived there. If you were to go, make sure to pay a visit to the Jones Archaeological Museum that has been renovated recently with many new and beautiful displays! Much of the Native American culture may be lost, but what is left at Moundville can offer an education experience and a look into the ancient past of North America.

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