Posts Tagged ‘Moundville’

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A couple of field trips this week -one documented here – to Moundville.  The other, yesterday, was to Horse Pens 40, just about 40 minutes away.  It’s a privately-held park, campground and event space high atop a mountain.  The great attraction is an excellent boulder field (others around here that we’ve enjoyed have been at Moss Creek Preserve and Cherokee Rock Village.) These formations have made the place a favored refuge for various groups and communities over the centuries.  The name?


    A young couple named John and Hattie Hyatt finally settled on this land during the late 1800’s. The story is that he came from Georgia with his ‘stolen wife’ (whatever that meant), a horse, and all his earthly possessions in a flour sack. Looking for a place of refuge, the Horse Pens was a natural choice. Years later, he filed on the property, referring to it as “the home 40, the farming 40, and the horse pens 40, each tract containing 40 acres of land”. This is how Horse Pens 40 got its name. This is one of the last homesteads filed in the state of Alabama. The land patent and original title was actually signed by the President of the United States. (Actually, the signatures of two U.S. presidents turned up on documents pertaining to the property during the title search)

No one around here actually “boulders” – yet.  But who knows…

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Movies watched over the past week: The Road to Morocco, The Road to Utopia and The Man Who Knew Too Much.  (Remake of the latter – which Hitchcock himself said was better than the first version)

It had been years since I’d seen any of the Road movies, so I did (of course) research to see what The Internet told me would be the best to start with.  The general conclusion seemed to be that Morocco was best, followed closely by Utopia.  Well, I think Utopia was far better than the other – the premise wasn’t quite as lame, Hope and Crosby’s enjoyment of each other’s company is palpable and fun, and I thought the jokes were much sharper, although I had to pause the movie several times to explain 60-year old pop culture references, and that final visual joke, while hysterical and perfect, is…awkward.

The boys were totally absorbed by The Man Who Knew Too Much, perhaps in part because it involved a little boy in peril.  As for me, I was absolutely impressed by Doris Day’s performance – it’s very strong and warm – and that scene where she sits at the piano and starts belting out Que Sera Sera at the top of her lungs so her little boy, imprisoned somewhere in the embassy, would hear her…gosh, my contacts are bothering me. Give me a minute, will you?

— 3 —

A couple of excellent reads on education:

First, a match made in heaven: Andrew Ferguson writing about Common Core:

It has to do with the old rule that supply creates its own demand. Over the last two generations, as the problem became unignorable and as vast freshets of money poured from governments and nonprofit foundations, an army of experts emerged to fix America’s schools. From trade unions and think tanks they came, from graduate schools of education and nonprofit foundations, from state education departments and for-profit corporations, from legislative offices and university psych labs and model schools and experimental classrooms, trailing spreadsheets and PowerPoints and grant proposals; they found work as lobbyists, statisticians, developmental psychologists, neurological researchers, education theorists, entrepreneurs, administrators, marketers, think tank fellows, textbook writers—even teachers! So great a mass of specialists cannot be kept idle. If they find themselves with nothing to do, they will find something to do. 

From The New Republic, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.”   Even if that’s not an option or choice for you, the article is well worth a read as it dissects the thankless, soul-sucking and time-gobbling hamster wheel that high school and college have become for would be “high achievers” everywhere.


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I usually find several podcasts from BBC radio worth listening to in the course of a week (although, tragically, In Our Time is on its summer hiatus until September…), and exceptional this week were:

Food Programme episode on food and opera.  It was less than thirty minutes long, but boy, did it pack a punch, employing the gifts of Fred Plotkin, opera-and-food-and-Italy writer.  I loved it.

Also the program on World War I: Cradle of Jazz might seem to waste our time, focusing on such a topic instead of the more serious aspects of World War I, but of course there is plenty of attention being given to the more fundamental aspects and will be over the next four years.  This program was actually quite absorbing, detailing the development of early jazz, the impact of the war and the   work of mostly African-American jazz musicians in Europe before and right after the War.


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Today I thought we might go to Tuskegee, to the Tuskegee Airmen Museum and the George Washington Carver Museum, but then I realized it was 2 hours away and I was sort of done with driving around Alabama for the week, so after I finished writing my Living Faith Lent devotion assignment that was due today, we moseyed out to the new big Latino-food centered supermarket called Mi Pueblo.  It’s enormous – as large as or larger than the Publix down the street.  According to the linked article, it’s the largest Hispanic grocery store in Alabama, the second in the area (the first is way down in a community south of here called Pelham) and a third is planned.  It’s a great store.  A huge variety of foods, quite inexpensive produce, amazing meat counter(including goat, pig and cow heads if you like), in-house tortilleria, a counter offering fruit concoctions, a bakery and a restaurant, where we ate a great lunch from the buffet.  None of the meats on the buffet were labeled, so that was probably a good thing – they ate pretty bravely in Mexico, but still they weren’t given pause by the possibility of eating goat or pig cheeks.  It’s not near my house, but it is on the route for some activities, so it will definitely become a regular stop.

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"





And then the rest of the afternoon at the pool, which I realized we hadn’t been to in a while, not only because of travels but because one of the boys had a bout of swimmer’s ear about a month ago – the first any of my kids have ever had.

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Oh, I finally sold – as in closed and signed off on – the other house.  I was sad to see the bungalow go, even though I haven’t lived in it for a year and  I really love my not-quite-mod but still mid century place, its yard, and on behalf of the boys, the basketball goal.  Someday, I’ll live the Bungalow Life again.  Just not now.

— 7 —

Just a few more weeks and Adventures in Assisi will be published – look for more on that soon!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Time to check this one off the list:

"amy welborn"

It’s Moundville – and that really is the name of the small town where this archaeological site is located, this site full of…mounds.

It’s about 15 miles south of Tuscaloosa, which, in turn, is about 50 miles southwest of Birmingham.  It’s been on my to-go list for a while, but even so, I was surprised by how extensive it is.

So no, it’s not that far away and I’d heard of it, but this visit was kicked up the list a couple of days ago when I Michael found a coffee table book on “Mysteries of Ancient America” or something at an estate sale and I dug deep for the three bucks to get it for him.  He leafed through it and murmured, “This will be very useful.”  (He’s nine).

At some point he showed me a page with a photograph of a structure that caught his fancy – a mound with steps – always a plus when you can climb the archaeology. I said, “Where’s that?”  He shrugged and we looked at the caption which didn’t mention a country or state but did say, “On the Black Warrior River” and I said…”Wait – that’s Moundville!”

To discover that this awesome spot was an hour from his house and he had been allowed to be ignorant of this fact was too much.

This settlement of a Mississippian Indians was last inhabited over 800 years ago.  Its flourishing followed that of Cahokia, in Illinois, so archaeologists posit that at some point, this Alabama settlement was the largest city north of Mexico.


You can climb on two of the mounds, including this, the largest.


The associated museum is small but quite good, having undergone a recent renovation.  The exhibits are very attractively displayed and clearly explained.  Even the two videos we saw are far beyond the lame level of the 1989-era videos one usually sees at historical parks.



"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

The back of the museum, viewed from atop one of the mounds.

As per usual, I found the modern history of the site just as (if not a bit more…) interesting as the ancient story.  Amateur archaeologists first explored and wrote about the site the mid-19th century, followed by more intensive work at the beginning of the 20th century by one C.B. Moore:

C. B. Moore was a wealthy man born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and educated at Harvard University. At the age of 40, Moore puchased a flat bottomed steamship, named theGopher, and navigated the Florida rivers during the summer. Concentrating on the shell middens and sand burial mounds along the rivers of Florida, year after year, C.B. Moore carefully excavated sites along the waterways. While Moore reserved the warmer months for traveling along the southeastern waterways and excavationg sites, the winter months were spent analyzing his findings and writing reports that were published by the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

In 1899, Moore ventured into Alabama traveling up the Alabama River. Then, in 1905, Moore traveled up the Black Warrior River where he spent most of his time excavating two mounds and surveying Moundville, a Native American center with over 20 mounds. Impressed by the size of the site and by the elaborate artifacts Moore uncovered, he returned the following summer to continue excavations. Moore was one of the first archaeologists to explore Moundville and document his findings, and, although his methods were not as sound as Jefferson’s, he nevertheless provided modern archaeologists with a wealth of information that might otherwise have been lost.

Then, a few decades later came Dr. Walter Jones (for whom the museum is named)

In the 1920s, several local citizens and state geologistDr. Walter B. Jones led efforts to turn the site into a park. Jones mortgaged his house to fund the purchase of the site, and Mound State Park (later renamed Mound State Monument) was established in 1933.

 Jones, assisted by David L. DeJarnette, began the first scientific excavations at the park in 1929. From 1933 to 1941, at the height of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) restored the mounds, built roads, and constructed a museum. Jones, DeJarnette, and others at the Alabama Museum of Natural History directed the force, excavating 500,000 square feet of the site, and more than 2,000 burials, 75 house remains, and thousands of artifacts

One of the placards at the museum said that this excavation work was the largest ever in the United States – and still only 14 percent of the site has been excavated.

"amy welborn"

The Black Warrior River

The museum is the only concrete building constructed by the CCC in Alabama (the others being stone/wood of course).

"amy welborn"

(As I have said before, I find the history of the history fascinating and always have.  I blame, first of all, my 9th grade World History class which was excellent and based completely on interpretation of primary sources. Then I blame the honors history program at UT which had a hardcore focus on historiography, and then my favorite class at Vanderbilt, which was on historiography and for which I wrote a paper on the uses of historical evidence in the debate over women deacons in Early Christianity….I guess what interests me is the human response to the surrounding world and how we discover, understand and interpret that whether that be via art, historical work, religion, literature or just…living.)

No, it’s not Chicen Itza or Uxmal, but that’s okay.  We (and I mean we ) learned a lot and found the whole experience quite absorbing.  Hopefully we can make it back for the festival in October.

And believe me, it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t Uxmal.  We might as well have been back down there because all the day the air around us was filled with chatter from our resident archaeologist/herpetologist/musician as he recalled every detail of our visit to Mexico and reminded me – repeatedly – of places yet unseen…of Palenque and Coban and….

"amy welborn"

Uxmal, earlier this year.





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