Not far from Tuscaloosa, Alabama is a window to another time - the remarkable remnants of a pre-Colombian culture.
The massive earthworks of Moundville have stood here for over a thousand years. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Black Warrior River, this archeological site contains a collection of 29 mounds constructed by a Native American society known as the Mississippian culture. The civilization consisted of multiple chiefdoms that occupied an area of land stretching from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Plains region in the west. Each chiefdom operated under its own regional autonomy, both establishing trade networks and engaging in conflicts with neighboring groups.
Unlike earlier hunter-gatherer societies, the Mississippian culture developed sustainable agricultural techniques that permitted the formation of permanent settlements. Within these settlements, they developed a complex, stratified society headed by a ruling elite of political and religious figures. It was the members of the upper echelon that supervised the labor-intensive construction of the many mounds, which served as foundations for temples, council buildings, and housing.
The chiefdom at the Moundville site grew into a town of as many as a thousand residents between approximately 1000 CE and 1450 CE. The growing influence of the chiefdom is reflected in the mounds themselves, which grew larger and larger. The tallest in the area, known as the Chieftain’s Mound, towers at 60 feet.
By around 1500 CE, the area had been largely abandoned. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the mounds began to be properly excavated, partially as an attempt to create jobs under the New Deal. Today, both researchers and casual visitors alike flock to the 185-acre site, the second largest of its kind after Cahokia.
Visit the recently-renovated Jones Museum to learn more about the inhabits of the ancient city and the importance of Moundville in the Path of Souls, climb the ancient mounds, and learn more about Native American foods and medicine at the Three Sisters Garden.
Visit Alabama with Atlas Obscura Trips
Smokestacks and Iron: Night Photography at Alabama's Sloss Furnaces
Join us, August 28–September 1, for a deep dive into composition, exposure, and black and white photography as we explore the imposing industrial remains of the historic Sloss Furnaces after dark, camera in hand.