Between 1900 and 1906, archaeologist C.B. Moore investigated Native American sites along the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers. He traveled the rivers on his stern-wheel steamer, the Gopher, which was photographed at Columbus in 1900 or 1901. The steamboat in the background is the Vienna, which sank south of Columbus in 1906. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Billups-Garth Archives Columbus Lowndes Public Library
May 10, 2014 11:02:03 PM
This weekend the Moundville Archaeological Park, located about 10 miles south of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, celebrated its 75th anniversary. It was inhabited between A.D. 1000 and 1450, and was probably the second largest town north of Mexico prior to European contact. Artifacts there, and the 28 mounds themselves, are amazing. Be it the Saturday of the 75th anniversary, or just any pretty day, Moundville is worth a short drive from Columbus.
I first went there as a child around 1960. Then, many burials with their skeletons were exposed with grave goods still where they had been placed at burial. Today, the burials are closed to the public. People are much more sensitive now to the treatment of everyone's ancestors. Times have changed the park but it remains just as fascinating a place and there is more than ever to see.
In Mississippi the same laws that apply to present-day cemeteries apply to all human burials, be they 10 years old or 1,000 years old. It is simply illegal to dig into any human burial in order to remove items buried with that person. If we do not respect the graves of those here before us how can we expect those who come after us to respect the graves of our families?
But Moundville is just a sidelight to today's column. Though the mounds had been described since the early 1800s, it was Clarence B. Moore, a wealthy, self-taught archaeologist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who first published an archaeological investigation of the site. It was published in 1905 in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. In that same journal, Moore also reported on Indian sites along the Tombigbee River from Columbus to the south.
In 1900, Moore arrived in Columbus on board his 84.5 foot long steamboat, the Gopher, on which he had spent the previous year investigating Native American sites along the Alabama River and near Mobile. He explored the Tombigbee River from Columbus south before he ventured to Moundville and published his reports that attracted national attention. In October 1906, the Washington Evening Star reported that the public library had received a copy of Moore's report on his investigations in Alabama.
In his 1905 report Moore wrote, "During the summer of 1900, Mr. J.S. Raybon, captain of the steamer from which our mound work is done, started with a companion at Columbus, Miss., the present head of navigation, and continued down the little Tombigbee River, so as the upper part of the Tombigbee before its union with the Black Warrior, near Demopolis, is sometimes called, and down the Tombigbee River to its junction with the Alabama. In this way were located a great number of mounds...Part of the winter of 1901 was devoted by us to a careful examination of the Little Tombigbee River between Columbus, Miss., and Demopolis, Ala."
Moore added that the Tombigbee River between Columbus and the Alabama River was of interest, though "...it yielded to our search but few artifacts and but little new in the way of data." Moore reported that he found the following Native American sites in Lowndes County: a mound at Butler's Gin, mounds at Chowder Spring, a mound at Halbert Lake, camp-sites at Moore's Bluff, a camp-site at Blue Rock Landing, a mound at Wild Cat Bend, a camp-site at Union Bluff, and a camp-site at Jim Creek. Moore excavated several skeletons but reported finding only one whole vessel, a "small rude clay pot with a loop-shaped handle at each side of the rim."
The artifacts Moore later found at Moundville during investigations from 1905 to 1906 represent some of the most beautiful and amazing Native American pottery found anywhere. Potter vessels were found in shapes ranging from human figures to birds to frogs. The Alabama Museum of Natural History made its first purchase of 175 acres at the site in 1929. The park is operated by the University of Alabama and its website is www.moundville.ua.edu.
It is always interesting how often history repeats itself, as does the weather. As a note to this story, on January 22, 1904, a huge tornado hit the town of Moundville, Alabama. Located about 10 miles south of Tuscaloosa, the town had a population of only 300 at the time. In that small community the storm killed 37 people and injured uncounted others.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.