Once one of the largest communities in North America, Moundville was a 300-acre village on the banks of the Black Warrior River in central Alabama from about 1000 to 1450 A.D. The site is now an archaeological park operated by the university. About 1,000 Mississippian Indians lived at Moundville at its height. As the village died out for unknown reasons, the area was left littered with pottery and other remnants of a highly organized society.
Items excavated from Moundville in the 1930s were stored in a locked, four-story repository at the site, Knight said. The theft was discovered 23 years ago when University of Michigan students researching the collection found boxes of artifacts lined up by a wall, waiting to be carried out. “So much was taken I theorize there were at least a couple of trips that (the thieves) made, and they were planning at least one more,” said Knight. The loss was staggering: About 70 percent of the university’s exhibit-quality artifacts were gone. Only the best items were taken, leading Knight to conclude that whoever took them knew what they were after.