Fascinating Moundville, Alabama

February 13, 2024.

Recently I was looking through photos from my 2022 trip across the country and realized I had never written a post about Moundville, which is crazy, because out of all the sites I saw in that six-month-long journey, Moundville was probably the most amazing. And that’s really saying something because I saw a lot of really incredible sites—from the great Serpent Mound in Ohio, which I find very beautiful, to a revisit of the iconic and captivating Devil’s Tower (called Bear Lodge by indigenous tribes who consider the site extremely sacred), to the ancient medicine wheel in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, and stunning Canyon De Chelly in northeast Arizona.

Before I arrived at Moundville, all I really knew was that archaeologists loved the site, home to 29 earth mounds, built about the year 1000 CE. (Interestingly, a security guard I met in a motel in Nevada told me he had worked there for a while, on an archaeological mission. What synchronicity!)

My GPS guided me to the sign at the entrance. I drove in the short drive and gasped. Right before my eyes were the first mounds, and they were unlike any I had seen so far. I had explored mounds in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and several years before, in Georgia. None of them resembled the mounds before me. These were quite large, three-dimensional trapezoids, or platform mounds, much longer than high. I had seen other flat-topped pyramids, but none that had such an expansive flat surface on top. They were quite striking.

I believe these were the two that greeted me, but I could see several more, all much larger, spread out before me in a giant field of grass. (See banner image, above, below title.) They were breathtaking. Perhaps it’s because there were so many so close to one another. The two largest mounds were left in a “shaggy” state, with wild vegetation growing up the sides. I imagine it was too dangerous mowing the sides of the larger mounds. But it was also good in that it gave visitors an idea of what it must have been like many years ago, prior to the invention of the lawnmower!

Here is a view of the largest mound, boringly named Mound A, with steps ascending to the top. When I was standing on top, there was an incredible view of the other mounds. I thought how easy it would be for a chief or leader to keep an eye on the people from there (where there had, in fact, been a building at one time, as indicated by post holes which remain.)

Moundville, Alabama is the second largest mound site in the continental U.S., after the famous Cahokia Mounds in Illinois. There are currently 29 remaining mounds.

This site was occupied beginning around 1000 AD. Like many mound sites, it was abandoned around 1450. (I find this a fascinating topic for discussion.) Circa 1150 AD, the area became a regional center, known as a chiefdom. The largest mounds were built on the northern edge of the plaza. It is thought that the smaller mounds were used for residential or mortuary purposes. (Although a psychic friend of mine has a completely different impression!)

With the remains of almost 6000 human beings having been found on the site over the years, there is reason to believe this was a funerary site, possibly one that many traveled to from great distances in order to bury their dead. The most prevalent and famous motif at Moundville is that of the eye in the palm of a hand. Indigenous people say it represents a portal to the Path of Souls, which native people believed to be the Milky Way. The hand in the motif is thought to be part of the constellation we know as Orion.

I am also fascinated by the two rattlesnakes which encircle the hand and eye. Perhaps the snakes represented new life? When snakes shed their skins, they are like babies with shiny new skin. Could this possibly be representing humans shedding their physical form to walk as spirits among the stars? That theory just occurred to me as I was typing. I could be totally off-base. But I do know that snakes play a large role in many tribal stories. Sometimes the snakes have legs; some have sings; others are huge and live in the water.

Perhaps people would cremate their dead and then travel by canoe or on foot to bring the cremains to be buried in this sacred place. There are so many mysteries to be resolved!

Banner image: This is the striking view from the top of the tallest mound. Most of the site/town/center was visible from that vantage point. Photo by Cynthia Greb.

About the Author

Cynthia Greb

Cynthia Greb is a writer, Nature lover, Dreamer, interfaith minister, and occasional artist. She has a great love for this beautiful planet and a deep connection to the ancient people who once lived so respectfully upon this Earth.
You can find her on Facebook, on YouTube, and occasionally on Instagram.

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