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Native American Societies


Humans arrived in what is now Alabama near the end of the last Ice Age. Waves of people migrated through the area for centuries before some of them established settlements. Over time, their culture advanced through the development of agriculture and trade.


By around 1000 AD, improvements in agriculture supported a sophisticated society spread across much of eastern North America. Artisans created pottery and tools that were functional as well as beautiful, often inspired by nature or their interpretation of the cosmos. Seasonal and harvest celebrations created a rich ceremonial life.


At Moundville, near Tuscaloosa, they built the second-largest mound city in North America. It held influence over towns and villages for hundreds of miles in every direction. By the mid-1500s, war and disease introduced by Europeans devastated the native population.


On a busy summer day in Moundville, ca. 1200, women worked in the cornfields, men returned from a hunt, and travelers arrived with tribute and trade items.


Descendants of the mound builders formed community networks that the Europeans would call “tribes.” The most prominent of these in Alabama were the Creeks, a confederation of many towns and families with similar language and traditions. Throughout the 1700s, the Creeks had a vibrant trade with Europeans, exchanging deerskins for manufactured goods.


In the Creeks’ matrilineal society, clan affiliation passed through the mother’s line. The bicultural children of Creek women and white men were considered fully Creek by their Indian families. They served as mediators between Creek and white society during a time of rapid cultural and economic change.

As the deerskin trade declined, some Creeks established cattle ranches and cotton plantations. Departure from the tradition of communal land ownership created division in Creek society.

“The Lands are not the Property of the Head Warriors, but of the whole Nation in common.” Emisteseguo, chief of Little Tallassee, to British Officials, 1771

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