Moundville Archaeological Site

Location: Moundville, Alabama

Webpage: University of Alabama Museum

General Description: Moundville is the site of a large settlement of the Mississippian Culture occupied from around AD 1000 to AD 1450.  It is the second largest settlement (second to Cahokia in Illinois) consisting of 26-30 mounds on 300 acres on a bluff above the Black Warrior River.   The plan of the town was roughly square with a large central plaza surrounded by mounds with a wooden palisade on three sides and the river as the fourth side.  One of the two largest mounds, Mound A, occupies roughly the center of the plaza and was likely used for religious ceremonies.  The highest mound, Mound B, is a 58 foot steep pyramid with two ramps and was the home of the chief.  At it’s cultural height, Moundville was the home of about 1000 inhabitants with another 10,000 living in the surrounding region.  Most of the agriculture was provided from the surrounding area, including the flatter terrain on the other side of the river.  As the cultural and religious center of the settlement, Moundville eventually became primarily a burial site.  Today the mounds are some of the best preserved mounds from the Mississippian culture, maintained by the University of Alabama Museums.  The onsite museum was constructed in 1939 by the CCC and contains over 200 stunning artifacts excavated on the site, which has seen two major excavation efforts that have examined less than 20% of the site.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center as you enter the site has a short video that provides an excellent context and overview of the site along with the history of the excavations and construction of the museum.  Be sure to get the map for the site that gives the location of important features.  In addition, there is an audio tour that you can access from your phone.

VisitorCenter

2) The first main stop on the driving tour is Mound B, which is where the chief had his residence.  They have a reproduction hut at the top of the mound, which is now closed and they have plans to remove it.  Unfortunately, while we were there they were in the process of replacing the wooden steps up one of the two ramps, so we could not climb to the top.  The view from the top would have been very nice, since it is the highest mound in the south, being nearly 60 feet high.

MoundB

3) Leading out from Mound B is a short nature walk that takes you along a heavy boardwalk to some overlooks of the river.

Boardwalk

4) The museum is an impressive concrete structure built by the CCC during the Depression and is still is great shape today.  Following a $5 million renovation in 2010, the exhibits are fantastic including a life size wax mannequins showing a wedding procession with reproduction regalia on all the figures.

5) Behind the museum you can climb up to the top of Mound A which provides an excellent view of the plaza and other mounds surrounding the plaza.  It was interesting that these mounds generally came in pairs, with the larger mound for the home of the important clan-chief and the other for either production or ceremonial purposes.

Plaza

6) Be sure to visit the conference center where there is a series of outdoor exhibits, again with wax figures, showing day-to-day activities.  While the “huts” are not good reproductions, the displays inside them are worth the time.