Gulf State Park Sand and Shell Mounds

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Gulf State Park holds some of the most endangered archaeological deposits in the State of Alabama.  Even though these sites are located within the protected area of the park, rising sea levels and damage caused by severe coastal storms will one day likely erase what remains of these fragile reminders of the people who were here before us.  Even today, understanding the complex system of interconnected waterways, residential sites, and mounds is made that much more difficult by the centuries of storms and historic changes to the landscape.  

The park has both sand and shell mounds that were built during the Middle Woodland period (circa AD 150) and Mississippian Stage (AD 1000 to 1500).  Sand mounds are common along the Gulf Coast and served as both cultural markers for the living and memorials to the dead.  The shell mounds located at the park are typically elongated midden (refuse pile) deposits bordering the water’s edge or circular mounds with intentional design. While some mounds include a mix of different shellfish types, a few show preference for only one type of shell, such as the Rangia cuneata, a brackish water clam common in the marshes of the Gulf Coast.  The selection of this single type is unusual given the availability of other shellfish that exist in the same areas and suggests that those who built the mounds were selecting them for a special reason. They may have been selecting them based on ease of harvest, season of availability, cultural taboos against eating other types, or maybe something as simple as taste. 

When we think of these people who hunt and gather their food, we often think of a simple lifestyle that included hunting, fishing, collecting seasonally available fruits and nuts, and limited agriculture.  In reality, these people were engineering large communal buildings, digging canals, building mounds, trading over long distances, and practicing complex cultural activities that included intricate artwork and a highly structured social hierarchy with religious, political, and social leaders, warriors, and venerated elders.  Imagine trying to convince one hundred of your friends to go build a mound, one basket load of sand at a time for days on end, or dig a long canal that would allow your town to have direct access to protected bays and inlets without having to venture out into the rough open waters of the Gulf.  The people who built these things lived in a complex world of interacting cultures, languages, and beliefs much like we do today. 

Gulf State Park is one of the few places where remnants of these past lifeways are preserved.   

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. 

 

Gulf State Park
20115 Alabama 135, Gulf Shores, AL 36542
Phone: (251) 948-7275

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Located in Baldwin County.

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Alabama’s Gulf Coast Eastern Shore

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