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.
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.