Between AD 1500 and 1600, the indigenous inhabitants of the area around the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers built a flat-topped mound measuring about ½ acre in size. The mound was the central feature of a semicircular village tucked inside a large defensive wall or palisade and surrounded by a moat that made the wall even more formidable to any would-be attackers.
This village was the northern political center of a coastal Mississippian culture that controlled much of the region. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts at this site that show how the inhabitants of this village were culturally connected to indigenous groups both at Moundville to the north and to those affiliated with the Pensacola phase along the Gulf Coast to the south. The presence of such diverse artifacts indicates the site likely served as a control center for trade moving up and down the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers between these groups.
In 1817 (approximately 200 years after the village was abandoned) American surveyors mapping the Alabama frontier discovered the mound and the deep semi-circular moat some 300 feet distant from the base of the mound. In 1819, Alabama’s first governor, William Wyatt Bibb, incorporated these earthworks into the centerpiece of the town plan he designed for Alabama’s first capital. In 1825, the new state entertained the last living general of the American Revolution, Marquis de Lafayette, with a public barbecue held atop this mound.
Today, visitors to Old Cahawba can still see a portion of the moat, but the large mound inside the moat is no longer present. Historical records indicate that the mound was removed and used as fill in the construction of a nearby railroad embankment in the 1850s.
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.