Native Americans in what is now the midwestern and southeastern United States adopted a new way of life during the Mississippian period (AD 1000–1550). Before this, locals in those areas relied on foraging for wild items and tiny garden plots to supplement their diets. The majority of towns were small. This previous way of life altered when societies expanded some 1,000 years ago. Mississippian culture consisted of numerous civilizations that shared a common form of energy or custom, not just one “tribe.” Mississippian peoples maintained trade networks, cultivated maize, constructed sizable earthen mounds, lived in fortified towns or small homesteads, had strong leaders, and utilized matching symbols and rites. The Mississippi River Valley, where the custom originated, is where the term “Mississippian” originates. This new custom spread throughout the Southeast through intellectual appropriation and human migration, first appearing in what is now Alabama around AD 1100. Because the Mississippians left no written records, archaeology has been used to piece together what is known about this period.
After people started investing more time and energy in farming corn, the Mississippian Tradition developed. As a result, an excess of food could be stored, which enabled population growth. Since river valleys provide fertile soil and a plentiful supply of wild foods, settlements tend to cluster there. New types of collaboration and competition emerged in larger communities. Some persons gained power or influence over others due to these changes.
The Mississippians farmed, hunted, and fished. They used shell or stone hoes to cultivate corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers in individual plots. Farmers created new fields after a few growing seasons because they had to since they had to burn off portions of the forest to make way for the areas. Slash-and-burn agriculture, as it is also known, is a method of agriculture still used by some indigenous populations worldwide. The farmed crops were supplemented by nuts, acorns, and wild fruits. The only domesticated animal among the Mississippian people was the dog, and they worked the land themselves and engaged in wild game hunting. Deer, turtles, and fish were significant sources of protein.
The Mississippians used pottery, stone, wood, and shell to make their implements. They fashioned stone into axes known as celts and chiseled bone into awls and fishhooks. They chopped stones into arrow points, knives, and scrapers. They prepared plant meals on grinding stones or pestles in wooden mortars. Food and drink were kept in gourds, baskets, and earthenware ceramic vessels. Meals were prepared by Mississippian peoples in jars resembling kettles and served in bowls, plates, and bottles. Most of the pottery they produced is bare and uninteresting, but archaeologists have found some pieces decorated with carved and stamped patterns, shiny black finishes, and red, white, and black paint. Fine serving utensils have handles with animal-themed heads and tails. Some smoking pipes constructed of clay and stone, as well as some pots, were shaped like effigies of animals or people.
Additionally, several tiny clay discs that were cut and formed from fragments of broken pots have been found by archaeologists. Although their purpose is unknown, they might have served as spindle whorls for yarn spinning or as game pieces. They also engaged in a game called chunkey, which was once performed by Indian people and involved rolling enormous stone discs down the ground.
The walls and other characteristics of Mississippian dwellings have long since rotted away, but archaeologists have discovered soil stains that resemble square, rectangular and circular patterns. Most homes were tiny, one-room structures that could hardly fit two or three individuals to sleep comfortably. Vertical logs were used for the walls, which were then covered in grass thatch, cane wattles, or occasionally a mud-and-straw plaster and frequently erected in foundation pits (daub). Fireplace hearths were either set in clay-lined basins or on the earthen floor.
Studies of Mississippian skeletons found in Alabama reveal a lot about the lives and deaths of the people. Although most people appeared to have had appropriate nutrition and were generally healthy, few survived past 50. Infections spread quickly due to poor sanitation, killing many infants. Some folks suffered from arthritis and tuberculosis. The majority of people experience dental decay as a result of their diets high in corn. Skeletons also exhibit violent characteristics. Numerous adult male frames in small villages, such as the Lubbub Creek site close to Aliceville, show signs of brutal injury that was likely sustained during the war. Male and female skeletons found at the Koger’s Island and Perry sites on the Tennessee River close to Florence were examined, and it was discovered that the victims had either been clubbed to death or shot with arrows and scalped. Others, reportedly the victims of a raid, were interred in a mass grave. Greater security was available to residents of larger settlements. Few of the hundreds of corpses from the massive Moundville site south of Tuscaloosa, on the Black Warrior River, bear any signs of violent deaths.