The Moundville Archaeological Park (Moundville Archeological Site), a 320-acre park containing
26 prehistoric, Native American earthwork mounds, burial sites and artifacts, lies outside Moundville, Alabama just a few miles south of Tuscaloosa.
Investigation has shown that the site was the political and ceremonial center of a regionally organized Mississippian culture chiefdom polity between the 11th and 15th centuries. The archaeological park portion of the site is administered by the University of Alabama Museums and encompasses 172 acres, consisting of 32 platform mounds around a rectangular plaza. The park contains a museum and an archaeological laboratory.
The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Moundville is the second-largest site of the classic Middle Mississippian era (after Cahokia in Illinois). The culture was expressed in villages and chiefdoms throughout the central Mississippi River Valley, the lower Ohio River Valley, and most of the Mid-South area, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi as the core of the classic Mississippian culture area.
The site was occupied from around 1000 AD to 1450 AD. The community took the form of a 300-acre residential and political area protected on three sides by a bastioned wooden palisade wall, with the remaining side protected by the river bluff.
The largest platform mounds are located on the northern edge of the plaza and become increasingly smaller going either clockwise or counter clockwise around the plaza to the south.
Scholars theorize that the highest-ranking clans occupied the large northern mounds with the smaller mounds' supporting buildings used for residences, mortuary, and other purposes. Of the two largest mounds in the group, Mound A occupies a central position in the great plaza, and Mound B lies just to the north, a steep, 58 feet tall pyramidal mound with two access ramps.
Archaeologists have interpreted this community plan as a sociogram, a social order based on ranked clans. The community was segmented into a variety of different clan precincts, the ranked position of which was represented in the size and arrangement of paired earthen mounds around the central plaza. By 1350 the site was being used more as a religious and political center than as a residential town. This signaled the beginning of a decline, and by 1500 most of the area was abandoned.
The surrounding area appears to have been heavily populated but the people built relatively few mounds before the creation of the public architecture of the plaza and mounds about 1200 AD. At its height, the population is estimated to have been around 1000 people within the walls, with 10,000 additional people in the surrounding countryside.
Based on findings during excavations, the residents of the site were skilled in agriculture, especially the cultivation of maize. Production of maize surpluses gave the people produce to trade for other goods, and also allowed the specialization of artisans. Extensive amounts of imported luxury goods such as copper, mica, galena, and marine shell have been excavated from the site. The site is renowned by scholars for the artistic excellence displayed by the artifacts of pottery, stonework, and embossed copper left by the former residents.
The first major excavations were done in 1905-06 by Clarence Bloomfield Moore. His work first brought the site national attention and contributed to the understanding of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.
One of his many discoveries was a finely carved diorite bowl depicting a crested wood duck. That bowl is now in the George Gustav Heye Center branch of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. It was his removal of many of the site's finest artifacts that prompted the Alabama Legislature to bar people from taking any other artifacts from the state.
The first large-scale scientific excavations of the site were done beginning in 1929 by Walter B. Jones, director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History and archaeologist David L. DeJarnette. Current work continues to be done by the University of Alabama.
Moundville Archaeological Park
634 Mound Pkwy
Moundville, Alabama 35474