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Thursday, 09 October 2008

The Native American Festival of Moundville

 

  I had the opportunity and privilege to be a volunteer at the festival this year as I did in 2007. The experiences were a way of really getting to know in greater depth some of the presentations, presenters, and events. My first and last assignments were at the archaeology station which had two real and opened units and some of the equipment used by archaeologists. Since the museum is being rentivated and expanded excavations are being carried out in preparation. When the construction is finished the museum will be larger and have much more for interested folks to investigate. Re opening is scheduled for this coming spring.

  Growing up and being educated in the public school system in Alabama I did not realize that so much history was left out of my text books about the original inhabitants until much later in life. The facility will help emphasize the importance  and contributions of the Native Americans in the place we now call home. Many of us claim the ancestry of Cherokees, Choctaws, etc. and this will help us to better understand our Native American kin.

  At my station one of the activities was reconstruction of broken pottery. Mostly school age kids and sometimes adults tried to put back together a pot or bowl made in the same manner as artifacts. Most pots had authentic looking designs much as one might find on a "dig."  Archaeological excavations often find pottery shards and if one is lucky a piece or two might actually fit together and an even luckier find might reveal enough to make a whole pot!  Putting it back together would show how it looked whole and also tell about its former use. I concluded form all the shards found by myself and others that pottery making must have been a full time occupation for some because so many broke so often from dropping, maybe pouring cold water into a pot too hot making it crack or from some defect.

  At Mound B (Temple Mound) the task was to inform school groups ascending and descending the fairly rough steps that go up for about 65 feet to the top of the tallest mound. I observe no one falling and getting hurt but there was plenty of opportunity for skinned knees. There is a building at the top built in the same manner and what might have been there when the chief (ruler) lived there. However, due to the ignorance and stupidity of some vandals no one could go inside because all the presentations of ancient daily life so carefully constructed had been viciously torn apart and battered to bits! The mound presented a nice view because of its height but the other part of the educational value is lost for now.

  To the right and a little behind Mound B  Dr. John Hall presented himself as William Bartram, an early explorer and botanist who walked through Alabama and other places in the southeast identifying plants, noting the landscape, making sketches of plants animals and people and fortunately for us keeping these records in a journal later published as a book. It gives a very good description of how things used to be. Dr. Hall described the use by Native Americans of the "black drink" made from a type of holly that grows wild in our woods which happens to be the only North American natural source of caffeine. He told of "milk sickness" which would kill many people in the late summer because cows would eat a poisonous plant called white snake root. The poison became concentrated in the fat of the cow and people would die of liver failure after drinking the milk. It occurred in late summer because  good grazing  plants became more scarce in the late summer and early fall and cows would eat the white snake root plant. The invention of barbed wire greatly decreased the problem because cows could not get to the poison plant easily. Abraham Lincoln's birth mother died of the poison and his step mother could read and taught her step son to read which has greatly influenced our history.

  Music and dances of the Native Americans were presented in the stage area which fortunately for me was just down the hill a short distance and I heard and saw much of it. I also worked with the living history presenters and would like to become one of them.

  Other opportunities will come up in our state to learn and enjoy our heritage. Early in November  Frontier Days will be carried on at Ft. Toulouse/Ft. Jackson at Wetumpka, AL. There will be many demonstrators and re enactors and living history presenters wearing authentic clothing and doing everyday life things as the early settlers, pioneers, and Native Americans did only a few generations ago.

  This is a wonderful season of the year to explore Alabama. The weather is not so terribly hot or too cold. Dickens Northport is in December and Kentuck is coming up in this month. Bluegrass festivals such a Blackwater in Jasper on October 10 and 11 are around and easily discovered. Get out and enjoy the jewel events of our beautiful state and explore Alabama with me. It is a good time for camping, too!

 

Jerome Adams

Exploring Alabama

 

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