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Our Day at the Moundville Archaeological Park Native American Festival!

Updated: Jun 14

Hey hey, Xplorers! Welcome back!

For those who may not know, two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to attend the annual Native American Festival at the Moundville Archeaological Park, and can we just say — we had an incredible time!

The Moundville Archaeological Park is very near and dear to our hearts, and we welcome any chance to spend a beautiful Saturday out there. But this event felt particularly special for one reason — we got to engage in some real-life, boots-on-the-ground community engagement, and boy was it fun!

If you couldn’t tell from our nerdy blogs, we get super excited about sharing our passion with the people in our community. That’s what cultural resource management is all about! After all, are we really doing a good job of managing our cultural resources if we aren’t sharing our knowledge with others? We don’t think so, either!

Archaeologists smile and prepare their tents and displays for the festival.

That’s why we reached out to the good people at Moundville to see if we could take part in their event. They were wonderful hosts, and they were almost as excited to have us as we were to be there!

That reminds us — before we go any further, we want to make sure we thank the kind people at Moundville for the incredible job they did putting on this event. It was a great joy to see so many people enjoying the beautiful day and learning about Native American history and culture.

Okay okay, we think that’s quite enough ado. So, without any further, let’s dig deeper into our amazing day at the Moundville Native American Festival!

Welcome to the Festival!

First of all, we just want to reiterate — we absolutely love Moundville. We get to experience that beautiful sense of wonder and excitement and passion for archaeology and Native American history each time we get to experience this real-world archaeological site.

The Moundville Park contains 29 platform mounds that were built by Native Americans in the 14th century. These mounds were used as the sites of various civic and ceremonial structures as well as the homes of nobles in the tribe, and today, you can visit them yourself! The park also contains the Jones Archaeological Museum, where visitors can see a number of the artifacts that have been recovered at Moundville over the years, and a beautiful nature trail and campground.

At Moundville, you can truly immerse yourself in the centuries-old history of the southeastern United States, and one of the ways they like to do that is by putting on the Native American Festival every year. Though we were only able to attend on Saturday, the festival took place from October 12th through the 15th, giving plenty of people from school groups to families to attend. The festival features tons of ways visitors can learn and experience the history of Native Americans! From dance demonstrations to living history presenters showing captive audiences traditional Native American cooking, dressmaking, and tool and weapon making, there are so many opportunities to experience Native American history and culture at Moundville’s Festival.

As you can probably imagine, we love the Native American Festival at Moundville, and we share a lot of the same values. As archaeologists, historians, and experts in cultural resources management in the southeastern United States, we understand the importance of studying and honoring Native American history. In the course of our work, we encounter Native American artifacts and sites out in the field, participate in consultations with various federally recognized Native American Tribes, and strive to pay respect to the rich and often devastating history of Native Americans — both pre- and post-contact with European settlers.

An archaeologist speaks with a visitor to the TerraX tent at the Moundville Native American festival.

That’s why we believe that the Moundville Native American Festival is so important. We truly enjoy learning more about Native American culture, and we believe it’s important to share what we know with others. The Festival gives us the opportunity to do both.

It also gives us the opportunity to get some facetime with our favorite audience — kids! In our experience, children are some of the greatest people to talk to about archaeology and history. Their enthusiasm was inspiring — they remind some of us about being little and dreaming of digging up really cool artifacts, just like we do every day now. That’s why, when we planned for our day at Moundville, we did it with the kiddos in mind.

So What Did You Actually Do?

We’re so glad you asked!

For one thing, several of our team members volunteered at various locations throughout the park. They worked in the museum, stood on the mounds themselves to talk to visitors, and helped out in various other areas throughout the day. We got to have some fantastic conversations with festival goers about the history of the area, the artifacts in the museum, and the significance of the incredible mounds, which was a lot of fun.

But we also brought our own set of activities for guests! TerraX reserved space for a tent, and we set up a few kid-appropriate activities for people to participate in as they walked around.

As you long-time Dig Deeper Xplorers know, one of the first things we do when we start a new project is create maps of the project area, or PA. So, we thought drawing maps would be a great place for the kids to start! We brought along some graph paper and plenty of colored pencils and gave the kids a little introduction to the map-making process. Emma explained that every map needs a north arrow (so we know which direction we’re facing!) and a scale (so we can measure actual distances!), and encouraged the kids to add those essential elements to their maps. Then, we prompted them to draw maps of what they’d seen at Moundville — and would you look at the results?! We got some incredible work from these kids, and many of them even allowed us to put their beautiful maps on display.

Then, for an even more tactile archaeological experience, we actually let the kids dig for artifacts! Well… not really, but we did let them dig in our sandboxes for pretend artifacts! We brought along a couple of bins filled with sand and buried a few small objects like seashells and glass (with the hard edges smoothed over, of course — we didn’t want any cuts or scrapes!) The kids got to dig around and pull out an artifact, and then we practiced our artifact analysis skills! Emma, Raychel, Joanna, Julia, Josh, Mike, Kelsey, and KB encouraged the kids to make note of their “artifact’s” size, color, shape, and other characteristics to make a guess about what it might have been used for in the past. Then, we let the kids carefully pack their artifacts along with their analysis sheets in sample bags and take them home.

Finally, for some of the older kids, we gave a little tutorial about soil profiles. In addition to the mapping materials and sandboxes, we also displayed on our tables of little jars with several layers of different types of soil to show examples of how soil can appear in the field. When one curious sixth grader visited our table, Raychel explained how we would draw a soil profile, making sure to sketch each layer or “stratum” of soil and label each with a Roman numeral. A couple of our young visitors gave it a try, and we were pretty impressed with the results!

Throughout the day, we explained to the kids and parents who walked by that the activities we were doing really are important parts of the archaeology work we do all the time. We loved seeing the shining eyes and bright smiles on the kiddos’ faces as they drew beautiful maps or uncovered interesting seashells… who knows? Maybe we met some future TerraX team members!

And How Did It Go?

It went — and we cannot say this enough — great.

As far as we were concerned, the Festival was a huge success! The turnout was great, and the people who attended seemed to have a genuine interest in learning about history, archaeology, Native American culture, and Moundville’s place in all of it. The people who work at Moundville were excited to have another archaeology organization show up, and we all enjoyed the opportunity for community engagement. Not to mention, it was a beautiful day, and we’re always grateful for the opportunity to get together and do something fun.

A child's colored pencil drawing of a map of Moundville

The activities we worked through were fantastic, and not just for kids! We had more than a few moms and dad get in on the fun as well. One grown-up even decided to try his hand at our map-making activity, and we think he did a pretty good job, don’t you?

But above all, we were truly thrilled to get to serve our community. By seeing faces and exchanging names, we felt like we got to be better connected to the people around us. We engaged in real conversations and showed people a little more about what we really do as historians and archaeologists in the real world. We also got to participate in a celebration of Native American history and culture, which is not only fun and not only educational but meaningful as well.

Hands down, the Moundville Native American Festival was one of our favorite events to be a part of, and we look forward to partnering with Moundville in the future. We’ve gotten a taste of the community engagement experience, and we’re never going back! We hope to see everyone again very soon for some more interesting and meaningful educational experiences.

Some Closing Thoughts

A TerraX team member smiling and enjoying an archaeology activity with a girl at the Moundville Native American Festival.

Let’s circle back around to that idea we introduced in the beginning. We’re not doing effective cultural resource management if we’re not educating the public. At TerraX, one of our strongest values is community engagement. We protect, preserve, and record archaeological and historical data for a reason — to increase our shared knowledge of the past and better understand our path to the future. Without sharing what we’ve learned, how can we uphold that value?

That’s why events like the Moundville Native American Festival are so important to us. Teaching the kids we met about archaeology was so much fun, and we were so grateful for the opportunity to serve Moundville by helping them put on this incredible event. Hopefully we’ll be able to participate in more events in the future!

In fact, if you have an event coming up and you’d like to partner with us, let us know! Feel free to reach out on our contact page, or you can email Raychel at We’d love to work with you.

And please, if you’re not already following them, make sure to check out Moundville on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While you’re at it, give us a follow too on our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. We’d love to get connected with you!

Until next time, thanks for reading, and keep learning, Xplorers!

— The TerraX Team


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