Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: Native-American Settlements

Long before the arrival of European settlers, Native-American tribes, most notably Creek (or Muskogee),  roamed through the Pinson area and depended on the abundant supply of water and the bounty that came from it – plentiful game, wild fruits and vegetables, fertile land to grow crops, and trees for shelter. Rocks and minerals could be used for tools and weapons.

Even before Muskogee tribes came into the area, Pinson was home to native peoples categorized as living during the Late-Woodland period. The Woodland period dates between 1000 BCE to 1000 CE. In Alabama, the Woodland period was characterized by increasing cultural complexity and population growth,  the adoption of agriculture, emergence of pottery-making, use of the bow and arrow, and complex ceremonies surrounding death and burial, including construction of burial mounds and burials in caves. Population growth prompted development  of wide-spread settlements, often settling on small streams. Use of the bow and arrow spread from cultures in the west, making hunting less of a group activity than it had previously been. Families became more self-sufficient and raising crops began to replace hunting as the most important food-producing activity. Pottery developed for a variety of uses, for example, storage of crops, such as maize and squash. Over time, mortuary practices simplified, possibly a decline in ceremonialism signaling a religious evolution focusing on reverence for ancestors of certain lineages. (Later Muskogee lineages were matriarchical in nature.) Evidence indicates that many small groups occasionally gathered together to build mounds and maintain long-range ties. Pottery from different villages was likely bartered and, and over time, developed similarities in form and decoration. Major villages where mounds were located expanded their functions from burial places to centralized places for civic and ceremonial functions. The combined developments of surplus food, special lineages, and, mound centers marked changes in society much different from how people had lived up to that point; changes that set the stage for developments that would take place in subsequent Mississippian periods (highlighted in Alabama by sites such as Moundville and Bottle Creek.)  Cultures in the Tennessee River Valley may have also begun to develop Mississippian characteristics about this time. (It is an interesting coincidence that the Pinson Mounds archaeological site in western Tennessee is also a Late-Woodland site that was used for ceremonies and burials.)

Pinson has one of the few known Woodland-period caves in Alabama. Located off of Dewey Heights Road, the cave was first excavated extensively by Dr. Paul H. Nesbitt and Carey B. Oakley from the University of Alabama in 1969 and 1970. The Pinson Cave was used as an ossuary (a place or receptacle for the bones of the dead) dating to circa 900 CE.

Pinson Cave

References to the cave dating to the Hamilton period likely refer to the type of projective points found, called Hamilton points, named from the first examples found in Hamilton County, Tennessee, near Chattanooga. Hamilton points are small early triangular arrow points that have straight, slightly concave sides, often serrated,  and a straight to slightly concave basal edge. Hamilton points are often very thin and exhibit high quality craftsmanship and flaking skills and technique.

Hamilton Projectile Point

There were two paths into the cave: a vertical shaft as well as a more accessible walkway, which was flanked by stones to make a primitive entry. Oakley’s excavation of about half of the cave yielding the remains of more than fifty individuals. Most interments appear to have been made in the flesh, although one cremated burial bundle was documented. Most burials were dropped into the cave via the vertical shaft. Other artifacts include marine-shell ornaments, bone pins, sandstone saws, various projectile points and a small number of pottery sherds.

Please NOTE that the Pinson cave site is located on private property and is OFF- LIMITS to the public.

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

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One thought on “Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: Native-American Settlements

  1. Are you aware that, while Mr. Oakley’s report on Pinson Cave maintains scientific detachment, he indicates that the remains of snails found with the bodies indicate that all the bodies, other than the one cremated burial, were dumped into the upper opening at one time? And that there are very few artifacts other than arrow points, more than one arrow point per body, and some of them clearly embedded in the bodies? Pinson Cave is not an ossuary, it is where the evidence of a massacre was hidden. It lies near the crossroads of major paths, and Turkey Creek. I wonder if it represents warfare or banditry, and corresponds in some way to the decline of the Mississippian Culture.

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