Located about thirty miles north of Scottsboro is Alabama’s only National Monument, Russell Cave. Archeologists have documented the cave’s use as a shelter for prehistoric people as far back as 10,000 years. Russell Cave allows visitors the opportunity to learn about the life ways of these people as well as do a little cave exploration.
Native Americans used Russell Cave to shelter them from the elements. The cave opening faces east, away from the cold winds of winter. The surrounding area provided plenty of game to hunt and a good nearby water source. The abundance of deer, black bear, wild turkey, squirrel, and fish from nearby streams gave the inhabitants plenty to eat. Various styles of arrows and spear points found in the cave indicate it was used by different bands of people. Some groups of people may have used the cave for shelter for prolonged periods of time. Others may have used it as a seasonal hunting shelter. Archeologists have found 24 burial sites in the cave, ranging from infants to adults.
Initial excavations in Russell Cave were done in 1953 by members of the Tennessee Archeological Society. A tract of land containing the cave was purchased from a private owner in 1956 by the National Geographic Society. They funded an excavation by the Smithsonian Institute from 1956-58. In 1958 the National Geographic Society donated the land to the American people, and in 1961 President Kennedy established Russell Cave National Monument.
The Visitor Center has a museum containing artifacts from the excavations. They include weapons, jewelry, pottery, and tools from the prehistoric people who used the cave as a shelter. The Visitor Center also shows videos about the park and its early inhabitants. Also showing currently is Ken Burns’ new film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
Tours of the cave are led by National Park Service Interpretive Rangers. They also offer special programs throughout the year. On September 18 they will present “Slithery Sliders”, a program which teaches visitors to identify venomous and non-venomous snakes native to the area. A Native American festival is held at the park each spring.
Russell Cave National Monument is open year round from 8:30am to 4:30pm. There is no entrance fee. Picnic areas are available in the park. When visiting Scottsboro, Alabama, plan a day trip to nearby Russell Cave.