Important Middle Woodland Canal in Ancient Alabama Analyzed

October 21, 2022

A mile long canal built for canoe travel by Native Americans between 576-650 CE connected the Gulf of Mexico to Oyster Bay and Little Lagoon in Alabama. They built dams at both ends of the canal to guard against flooding of the canal. In the winter, canoes could traverse the distance to the Gulf. In the summer, it would have been a footpath through the forest.

Middle Woodland villagers, living at Plash Island, probably built the canal to get to camps closer to the Gulf to process, smoke and dry fish and shell fish for preservation. They were not agriculturists so this was crucial to their survival.

The canal would have also been a good conduit for long distance trade from Mobile Bay to the entire southeast. And there is no evidence for a chiefly elite during this time period. So an equalitarian effort was undertaken to build the canal and constantly clean the canal out and divvy up the water.

The research was published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

The report is here at Smithsonian Magazine