The cluster of mounds known as the Bessemer Site was the largest indigenous mound site in what is now Jefferson County, and it once dominated a large territory in what became north-central Alabama. Occupied from about AD 1150 to 1250 during the early Mississippian period, the site included three mounds near the confluence of Halls Mill Creek and Valley Creek west of Downtown Bessemer. In the 1930s, archaeologists completely excavated all three mounds, so no above-ground evidence of them remains. These mounds included a “domiciliary” (residential) mound, a small burial mound, and a large ceremonial mound. The two-tiered ceremonial mound was built atop an unusual stone foundation that is rarely seen associated with mounds in the Southeast. Other unique features included preserved stair-steps on the domiciliary mound and the remnants of a double-walled palisade encircling the burial mound. Beneath the mounds, archaeologists also discovered the remains of buildings and other structures that pre-dated construction of the mounds.
During the mounds’ occupation, an active village surrounded the site where people lived in rectangular wattle and daub houses with thatched roofs. In the bottomlands along Valley Creek beyond the mound center, members of this community cultivated important food crops such as corn, beans, squash, amaranth, and sunflower, and supplemented these crops by gathering fruits and nuts, hunting game, and fishing.
The Bessemer Site has played an important and changing role in the interpretation of Mississippian cultural developments in central Alabama. Early studies of pottery from the site suggested a close association with the Moundville Chiefdom, which is located 75 miles downstream along the Black Warrior River. However, a more recent and better understanding of Mississippian ceramics indicates that the Bessemer Site was actually the center of a separate chiefdom that was similar to Moundville, but distinct from it.
This site is very important to numerous Southeastern indigenous tribes who assert an ancestral connection with those who built and occupied Alabama’s ancient mounds. The earthwork landscapes and the objects and information recovered from them reveal a rich cultural tradition that still thrives today among these tribes. Our indigenous mound sites represent a heritage for all Alabamians to cherish, and it is important that we protect and preserve them for future generations.