The Russell Cave system is the third-largest in the state of Alabama, having more than seven miles of passageways. The majority of the cave system is off limits, and for good reason.The caves can flood, fast. Even when just a minor rain shower passes through the area.
Also, this cave system is home to an important – perhaps one of the most important – archaeological dig sites ever found. These caves are thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited shelters in the eastern portion of the country. More than two tons of artifacts have been hauled from the cave, including spears, tools, pottery, and even the bones of our ancestors, some of which are calculated to be over 9,000 years old.
On the grounds is a Visitor’s Center which houses some of these artifacts for public display. There are photos of local men digging out a pit for these and other finds. The pit was filled in during the 90s, before which visitors were allowed to peruse the remains.
After you leave the Center, you’ll take a five-minute walk on a raised boardwalk that goes through the trees leading to the cave’s mouth. The caretakers have posed wax “cavemen” to illustrate a typical day in the life of these prehistoric humans. Some are shown drying the skins of animals that have been hunted in order to make clothing; some are testing their tools, such as a blowgun used in hunting; another is feeding a baby; still another is roasting an animal for supper. One shows a boy with what could be considered a “toy” of the times: a string with bones threaded onto it – maybe a baby rattle? Nevertheless, this glimpse of our past is the closest the typical tourist will get to Russell Cave.
President John F. Kennedy declared Russell Cave a National Monument in 1961.
The monument is located at 3729 County Road 98 in Bridgeport. The entrance lies just north of Tennessee’s state line. There’s a large sign – you can’t miss it. Call ahead to 256.495.2672 to verify park times.