Monday, May 9, 2011

Moundville Archeological Park

Or, Having your own personal archeologist: Priceless

Day 3 - As we drove into Alabama and grew tired of keeping track of the ever-increasing armadillo body count, I asked Amanda (let's call her Indiana Amanda - picture the hat, and running from a large boulder - when visiting archeological sites) to give me an introduction to Moundville.  Indiana Amanda described the "cosmology" of United States archeology - the time periods and what distinguishes them, the confusion caused by different useges of some of the terms, and the general landscape of what is known and not known about paleo, archaic, woodland, and historic Native Americans.

Moundville as people think it once looked

Apparently, mound building was the thing to do in the posh circles of Native America.  Whether to live on top of them as the chieftan, as in the case of Moundville, or perhaps to just celebrate rituals, or something entirely else, it is often hard to tell the exact purpose of the mounds.  Moundville is a circle of dirt mounds built by Mississipians, slogging basket after basket of dirt on into piles, creating ponds and an inflated sense of ego for the chieftan (warning - account may not be accurate - I am not an archeologist).  Here we see the immediate ego impact of standing on top of piles of dirt.

There are over 30 mounds dotting this area in an approximate rectangle, which were surrounded by a big fence to keep out other people who were perhaps keen to throw their own dirt into a pile, but not deemed worthy.

We visited the very nice museum on the grounds.

It featured some of the fantastic artistic pottery and copper objects found at the site, which was the subject of intense excavation by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the depression, and continued to be a focal point of archeological interest through to the present.

Ooo, artifacts.

Next up was a recreated Native American village, in which we learned that the natives apparently suffered from melting body parts while in their huts.  After all, it is the blazing hot south.

Check out melted neck man on the left

The site is located along the Black Warrior River, which was lovely.

Later, while driving to Mississippi, we drove over it on a bridge and saw the massive flooding caused by the recent onslaught of storms.  An entire swatch of woodland was half submerged, with tiny tree tops poking out in the middle of the expansive river.

So, what did I learn from Indiana Amanda today?  First, that I am definitely not cut out to be a cavewoman or Mississippian or anything more rugged than a well-equipped roadtripper.  Second, that archeology is a messy, ill-defined field of study, in which almost anything can sound plausible but usually requires back breaking work and almost impossible luck to be supported by actual evidence.  Better Indiana Amanda than Indiana Mary, that's for sure.


Amanda is still on a quest to find her true self.  Check in on this post later to find out how that's going.

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