Saturday, August 1, 2015

Moundville Archaeological Park

Booger Lights: A Native Alabaman Mystery

Wikipedia Photo of Mounds J, A, & B by Herb Roe 2005

The Moundville Archaeological Site lies south of Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River in Hale county, Alabama.  The site was a Mound-Builder commercial, religious, and residential center and is the second largest classic Middle-Mississipian culture after the mound complex at Cahokia, Illinois.  The Mississippian people occupied the site from around 1100 to 1450 AD, but there are reasons to suggest that at least in spirit some of them remain.
The central area consisted of a 300 acre plaza surrounded on three sides by a timber stockade and protected on the other side by river bluffs.  At the civilization's height it is estimated that 1000 people lived within the walls and another 10,000 resided in the surrounding lands.  Also lying inside the walled area are the remains of several large mounds that formed the center of religious and political life.  A large mound, designated Mound A, dominates the center of the plaza.  The largest of these mounds, Mound B, is a 58 foot tall earthen pyramid with two long ramps leading to its flattened summit.  A temple existed on the summit of Mound B.
For almost 400 years the Moundville culture flourished on the banks of the Black Warrior River.  Its citizens were skilled farmers and artisans who left behind distinct artifacts of pottery, flaked stone, and embossed copper. Their agricultural success enabled them to import goods from as far away as the Great Lakes region.  However, for some unknown reason about 1300 the culture began to decline.  By 1500 the Moundville site was mostly abandoned.

Site map from the Encyclopedia of Alabama
Today, the Moundville complex is a National Historic Site.  The park and the archaeological area is tended by the University of Alabama.  The park houses a widely acclaimed museum and hosts a yearly Alabama Native American festival.
Sometimes the beating of drums is heard to come from the park after closing time.  Also a ghost light phenomenon has been observed after dark.  The light is most often reported to appear near the flat part of Mound B  where the tribal shamans conducted rituals and made sacrifices to the Mound Builders' gods, one of which was said to be a great horned serpent.  It is not confirmed that human sacrifices were made at Moundville, but they were known to be made at other temple mound locations on rare occasions.  Perhaps the Moundville Light is the fire of the ancient altar or the unhappy spirit of an unwilling sacrifice.  Whatever its source, the Moundville Light is an infrequent and unpredictable occurrence in an amazing and history packed location.
Moundville Archaeological Park is 14 miles south of Tuscaloosa on Highway 69.  To get there from I-20 take Exit 71-A and proceed 13 miles south to the park entrance.  At the time of this writing the park is open daily from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  There is a small admission fee, but self-guided tour pamphlets are given out for free.   For more information, call the park at (205) 371-2234.
Remember that this sighting area is not only a federally protected historic site, but a sensitive archaeological resource.  Obey the rules, cooperate with the park staff, and enjoy your visit.  With luck and under the right conditions, you just might get to see the Moundville lights.Booger Lights: Missouri Ghost Lights

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