The Bessemer Mounds are located at a bend of Valley Creek, which flows into the Warrior River twenty-five miles downstream. The site is located in Jefferson County, within the city limits of Bessemer, Alabama, near the site of Old Jonesboro and very close to Rock Mountain. The Bessemer Mounds were first occupied during the Late Woodland Period between 800 A.D. and 1000 A.D. From 100 A.D to 1500 A.D., three Mississippian Phase mounds were built over the Woodland village.
Archaeologists believe that there was a relationship between the people who built the mounds at Moundsville, Alabama, which was the largest population center in the Southeast eight hundred years ago, and the people who built the Bessemer Mounds. The Bessemer Mounds are approximately four hundred years older than the mounds at Moundsville, approximately seventy-five miles southeast, on the Warrior River.
Bessemer Mound Site, with Proximity to Rock Mountain: http://goo.gl/maps/JWXF (Click on the Two Blue Balloons and then Click Back to Return to Site).
1890 Excavation Report
The ceremonial mound occupied the center position among the three. A burial mound was built three hundred feet from the ceremonial mound and a domiciliary mound was built four hundred feet from the ceremonial mound.
In 1890, Cyrus Thomas recorded the first excavation. In the report “Mound Exploration” he wrote:
“Near Jonesboro is a small group of mounds on the plantation of N.D. Tailey. The valley of the small creek that flows along the northern and eastern sides of the field in which the group is located is quite wide at this point, the round knob-like hills which form its boundary standing at quite a distance from the mounds.
“The surface of the field immediately around the mounds is comparatively flat, pitching in a steep bank to the water a few feet of Mound No. 1 (small burial mound). Northeast of this mound the surface has the appearance of having been dug or probably washed out by the creek. East of mound three (domiciliary mound) is what might be called the first bottom land, about 4 feet lower than the surface of the field. This point is above the overflow of the small creek, while farther down the valley the land is frequently inundated and had been under water a short time previous to excavation.”
“No 1 is an oblong mound, measuring 30 feet east and west, and about 4 feet height at its highest point. A few small pine and hack berry trees have grown on the sides since it was built. It is made of clay, sandy soil as that found in the fields which it stands. Only a few coals and shovelfuls of ashes were found in it, which had been thrown there at the time it was built and may have been scraped up from the surface of the field with the rest of the mound, but in hunting the field over for any specimen that might have washed out or plowed up, no ash beds were seen, nor did any of the tenants of the land remember plowing through such fields.
“No 2 (the ceremonial mound) has the appearance of an oval platform with a small mound at one end of it. The longer diameter of the base of the platform is about 140 feet, the greatest width 100 and the height 5 feet. The height of the upper mound, which is on the smaller end of the platform is 7 feet, the diameter of the flattened top is 30 feet. Its western slope is continuous with that of the platform. The upper mound has been considerably torn up by treasure hunters, but scattered over the top was a large quantity of burnt clay, much of which bore the impression of a stamp made apparently of split cane. A trench lengthwise through the platform showed that the top layer consisted of 4 feet of red sandy soil, evidently taken from the surface of the surrounding field, the remainder, to the original surface of the ground, of pure river sand. The upper mound was comprised of sandy soil down to the platform, and hence it is reasonable to conclude that it was built at the same time that the upper layer was placed on the platform. No bones, ashes, charcoal, or vestiges of art were observed in any part.”
“No 3 (the domiciliary mound), is a circular mound, about 110 feet in diameter at the base and 60 feet across the top, which is flat; height 8 feet. A trench across it through the center showed that it was constructed of sandy solid from the surrounding field. In the central portion, about half way down, was a layer of clear river sand 3 inches thick and about five feet in diameter. Nothing else was found in it.”
Excavations: 1934 – 1941
What was recorded:
A layer of stone pavement formed the base of the Ceremonial Mound. Added to a height of 10 feet was red clay, loam and white sand. The mound contained one burial, scattered potsherds and stone artifacts, fresh water shells, and charcoal. The burial was placed there during construction and was that of a young female. Potsherds were scattered between the rocks of the stone pavement at the base of the mound. One small chert blade and a broken celt were found in the knob. Bits of red and yellow ochre, projectile points, an abrader, a flint knife, and pottery fragments were also found.
The remains of a village was found under the ceremonial mound. All of the structures were square and rectangular, with signs of wood poles being used as support. A stone grave contained two human burials and one dog burial.
The Domiciliary Mound was built in six construction stages. A ramp of steps led to the top. Two large village areas were partly beneath the mound. Some of the structures were round. Four pits were found, probably built for the purpose of refuge. In total, there were thirteen structural above ground structural patterns.
The Burial Mound was built is two stages. The first stage contained three burials. The top mound contained twenty burials. Projectile points, celts, shell beads, bowls, and antler tips were found with some of the burials. Only one human skull was found.
Before the Mound Builders
The Bessemer Mound site was first inhabited as early as 5000 B.C. by Archaic and early Woodland Indians.
The only known Paleo site in Jefferson County is near McCalla, about five miles south of the mounds. During the construction of Interstate 459, a site was partially excavated and found to have been inhabited by Indians from 8,000 B.C. to 1000 A.D. Near the site is a cave on the banks of Five Mile Creek. Excavated in 1974, evidence was found that human activity at the cave dates back to 7,500 B.C. Pearl beads, shell artifacts, and basketry fragments were found in the cave.
State of Mound Site Today
The actual mounds were destroyed during the excavations. Recent development, including the theme park, the outlet mall, and the Jefferson County Sewer and Garbage Disposal Plant, have destroyed a large part of the Indian village site.