A Woodland Indian burial called a “Copena” burial site can be seen in DeSoto Caverns. The word “Copena” comes from the first three letters of copper and the last three letters of galena, two materials commonly found in these burials. Typically, more than one body fills the mound pit along with such burial offerings as a leaf-shaped stone spear point (called a Copena point).
Prior to a typical Copena burial, the Indians placed their dead out on racks in the sun to dry and decay. Birds would eat away the flesh after which the Indians would gather up the bones and carry them in a sack to their ancestral cave. Here, they would cover the sack with clay and bury it in the earth. The Indians believed it was important that each dead person’s spirit have the use of his or her limbs, hands, etc., to get around in the afterlife. They also believed the cave was a peaceful and protective environment for the spirits of their ancestors to live on in.
The burial was discovered in 1965 by a team of archaeologists from the University of Alabama. It contained the skeletons of five Indians, one of whom was a child. Of special note was the immense jawbone of one of these Indians whom scientists believe was more than seven feet tall. Several years ago, DeSoto Caverns Park officials agreed to allow a group of Native Americans to rebury the remains of these Indians in an undisclosed area of the cave.