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Russell Cave National Monument



Location: Jackson County, Alabama  Map

Area: 310 acres (130 ha)




Description of Russell Cave National Monument

Russell Cave National Monument is an important archaeological site of pre Columbian Native American cultures that once lived here. Russell Cave National Monument is located in Jackson County in Alabama and cover a total area of 310 acres (130 hectares). Archaeological digs in Russell Cave National Monument showed that people first settled in the area 10,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal left from fires Archaic people burned here were date as early as 6550- 6145 BC. This natural formation could house several families of 50- 60 people. The cave provided shelter from the natural elements as well as constant source of water that flows here.




The rock in which Russell Cave is dug was formed more than 300 million years ago, at the bottom of a closed sea that covered the region. Deposits of skeletons and shellfish were found in the limestone. Rainwater, slightly acidified by the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere, slowly dissolved part of the limestone, giving birth to a cave. The collapse of a cave ceiling between 9,000 and 12,000 years ago under a hill near Doran's Cove creates a sinkhole, revealing the existence of Russell Cave. Practically until the occupation of the cave by the Native Americans, Russell Cave was uninhabitable because of a stream occupying the entire cave.

Historical biology and paleobotany studies show that the fauna and flora of the Eastern Forest Region have not really changed for thousands of years. This situation begins to evolve as European settlers clear their land for wood or for commercial and subsistence farming.

Russell Cave is inhabited by bats and the cave's watercourse is home to a species of fish (the "sculpin"). Different species of snakes live around the cave, such as agkistrodon contortrix, crotalus horridus, elaphe and king snake. More than 115 bird species have been identified by researchers at Russell Cave or around it.



History of the Russell Cave

Archaic period (before 1000 BCE)
The history of thousands of years of prehistoric humans has been revealed at this archeological site. Chipped flint points and charcoal from campfires provide evidence that occupation of Russell Cave began nearly 10,000 years ago by Native Americans in the southeastern Archaic period. The charcoal remains of the first fires in the cavern date to between 6550 and 6145 BCE, based on radiocarbon dating. As the people were hunter-gatherers, it is likely that they occupied the cave only during the autumn and winter seasons, when they needed more shelter. According to John Griffin, the issue of seasonality (during what season or seasons the cave was used) remains to be determined. Evidence indicating occupation in autumn and winter include deer bones and passenger pigeon remains. The presence of shellfish artifacts clouds the determination somewhat, as shellfish would have been easier to procure during periods of dry weather in mid-spring and late summer. However, William J. Clench has suggested that the occupants may have brought mussels and snails to store in nearby bodies of water (Dry Creek and/or Crownover Springs) for use as needed including in autumn or winter. Based on the existing information, Griffin is "strongly inclined" to view Russell Cave as a place of winter occupancy.