Tales of Tuscaloosa: The First Tuscaloosans (July 13, 1842)

Woodland and Mississippian stage pottery sherds from about 2000 to 500 years ago, all found in Tuscaloosa. Carbon deposits on the three on the right are likely from cooking. The white speckles on the top middle sherd are mussel shell fragments added as a tempering agent to help prevent cracking during firing. Woodland and Mississippian stage pottery sherds from about 2000 to 500 years ago, all found in Tuscaloosa. Carbon deposits on the three on the right are likely from cooking. The white speckles on the top middle sherd are mussel shell fragments added as a tempering agent to help prevent cracking during firing. Jim Ezell

Thomas Maxwell entered the Independent Monitor office and revealed a “stone idol” to publisher Marmaduke Slade. The representation of a human with a flattened head stood 10-inches tall. Slade described this object in the July 13, 1842, issue of his early Tuscaloosa newspaper and expressed doubt about their use by “the red men of our forest.” Four years later, he reported a large “curiously wrought earthen vase” containing bones and a human skull. These artifacts came from the nearby village of Carthage. 

These objects are now known to have been created by Indians or Native Americans—descendants of migrants from Eurasia 12,000* or more years ago. Archaeologists typically divide the history of these peoples into four broad “stages,” all of which are represented by sites in or near Tuscaloosa.

The earliest stage, or Paleoindians, were nomadic ice age hunters who ranged over much of North and South America. Their game included now extinct large animals such as mammoths, mastodons, giant bison, and ground sloths. They also dealt with predators, such as short-faced bears, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats. Artifacts from this time include various projectile point types, many distinctively fluted. 

Projectile points such as these were used for spears, knives, and dart points. Only the very smallest were suitable for tipping arrows.

As the ice age ended, many large animals disappeared. People came to rely on smaller game and gathering as they transitioned into the Archaic stage, which lasted for about 6000 years. They made use of the atlatl or spear thrower and migrated seasonally to exploit food resources, such as mussels, fish, nuts, and seeds. Typical artifacts from this stage include large blade-like projectile points, nutting stones, and stone vessels. The late Archaic stage saw the beginnings of pottery, agriculture, and trade.

The Woodland stage (about 1000 BC to 800 AD) supplanted the Archaic stage and featured increased dependence on cultivated crops, such as maize, sunflower, beans, and squash, and the development of more permanent settlements. There was added emphasis on ceremony, pottery refinement, use of the bow and arrow, and erection of conical earthen mounds.

The Mississippian stage began as maize agriculture, intensified, and flat-topped mound complexes developed. Social stratification and large chiefdoms arose. Exotic materials, such as native copper from the Great Lakes region and conch shells from Florida, became common. Rudimentary metalworking of ritual objects developed. The Mississippian stage existed locally from about 800 to 1500 AD. 

Soon after abandonment of most Mississippian sites in the 15th and early 16th centuries, Native Americans came into contact with Old World peoples, such as Europeans and Africans. Subsequent diseases, warfare, and cultural change caused dramatic population decreases. The survivors became the ancestors of many present-day tribes, including the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole, Cherokee, and others.

The village of Carthage became Moundville, the location of Moundville Archaeological Park, one of the most important Native American sites in the United States.

*NOTE: Dates and numbers of years are approximate, can vary regionally, overlap and are sometimes modified on the basis of new research. 

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Jim Ezell

Local author and historian Jim Ezell is busily writing a collection of historical stories about the Druid City and surrounding areas, in hopes of publishing a book ahead of Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial celebration in 2019. What began as genealogy search in 1992 quickly turned into a much larger project. As Ezell searched through over a century of newspapers on microfilm at the University of Alabama’s Hoole Special Collections Library, he became fascinated by other articles about Tuscaloosa’s rich history.

Ezell was recently named Writer of the Year for 2015 by the Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild. 

Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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