Ancient Indian Burial Site.
The Indian Knoll site is located in the Ohio Valley of west central Kentucky in
Ohio County a few miles up river from Rockport. This area is known as the "Shell
Mound Region" because of the large deposits of shell that were disposed of by the
Ancient Indians that existed in this area some 3,000 years before Christ walked
upon this earth. These "Hunter Gatherers" of approximately 3000-2000 BC moved
about the area and designated certain areas for specific purposes like Indian
Knoll being designated as a place to feast and to bury the dead. After hundreds
of years, the deposits of mussel shells reached depths of several feet. A burial
could now consist of just raking out a shallow grave in the mussel shells and
covering up with other shells. Years later mussel shells and other deposit would
be added on top the graves as the Ancient Indians feasted and several feet of refuse
would eventually cover the skeletons. This refuse was called middens.
In the early 20th century, in 1915, Clarence Bloomfield Moore and a crew of eight
men were the first to explore a small portion of the land that was not being used
for agricultural purposes. This team removed 298 individuals, 66 of which were well
preserved, and sent to the United States National Museum. For the next twenty years,
the rest of this large burial site was used as farm land. In 1937 the farm was
destroyed by the big flood. In 1939, William Snyder Webb and his team began a second
excavation and removed 880 more human skeletons.
Men working at Indian Knoll under the Works Progress Administration. Photograph
courtesy of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.|
In 1960, what was left of the burial site was excavated by Francis Johnston and
Charles Snow. From the skeletal fragments, they estimated there to be at least 1,234
individuals, rather than 1,178 reported between Moore and Webb. Johnston and Snow
concluded that Indian Knoll had a high infant mortality rate, mostly under one
year, but also many under four. The average life span was about 18.5 years old,
with slightly more male burials than female.
Indian Knoll, in the mid-twentieth century, was just a a place for a young lad in
the Rockport area to visit and in doing so would be a mostly all day trip. It was
located in Ohio County some four miles upriver from Rockport and just across the
Green River from Paradise. Access by automobile was by way of Hopewell Ferry Road
or better known as Paradise Ferry Road in our period of time. We knew of three
Indian Sites that we thought were American Indian Burial Sites. We often visited
the Jackson Bluff site, occasionally the Indian Knoll Site, and was aware of one
at Chiggerville. Chiggerville was just to far away for a hike and as young preteens
and teenagers, we did not have any motor type transportation. Later, as an adult,
I was lucky enough to visit excavations of the Indian Knoll Site and the Rochester
Dam Site. As a preteen and teen, I was able to visit and to search the Jackson
Bluff Site and the Indian Knoll Site.
My memory of Jackson Bluff, Jackson Hill, or Jackson Indian Graveyard is vivid,
guess because of the many visit to the place. Mussel Shells, complete and in shards,
seemed to be all over the place. They were so thick
that walking over them was difficult. An occasional arrowhead,
broken arrowhead or other odd items would be found. We called it a graveyard and
thinking of the Native Americans only a few centuries ago.To my knowledge, this
area was never a place for burial, but only a day type camp area or a place where
the Indians could spend a few days hunting, fishing and gathering.
My memory of Indian Knoll is not near as vivid as Jackson Hill. I have been there
a few times and once in 1960 when the site was being completely excavated. In 1960,
I was able to drive to the site. As I started down the hill going toward the old
Paradise Ferry Landing and Indian
Knoll on the left or upriver, I witnessed a crew of men in the process of removing
all Indian relics from the area including human and dog skeletons. The "Dig Areas"
were marked off in square sections, somewhat like a house being built is staked out.
Just a few years later, in 1966, this area now known as "Site 150H2" would become
a National Historic Landmark.
The 1939 excavations included trenches paralleling the Green River, which contained
over 1000 burials, and evidence of ancient dwellings with clay flooring, six hearths,
and what Webb noted as kitchen fireside tools, or artifacts such as hammerstones,
grooved axes, pitted stones, mortars and pestles. There were also some 67,000
artifacts uncovered at Indian Knoll, some of which were carbon dated, and thought
to be an average of about 5,300 years old. These dwellings are considered to be
permanent occupations. The hearths were probably used for heating during the winter
as well as cooking. The shell middens nearby contain not only the remains of the
gastropod shells, but debris of animal bone and fire-cracked rock such as sandstone
and river pebbles, probably used for cooking, boiling water, and processing walnuts,
hickory nuts, and acorns.
The earlier graves at Indian Knoll were found down to five feet into the sand, with
the more recent burials inside the shell midden. The deepest were better preserved
as a result of the moist sand, even some of the bony tissues and infant skeletons
remained intact. The grave structure was usually small, round, and filled in with
black midden debris. The burials inside the midden showed no sign of formal walls,
thus it is likely that individuals were placed in shallow depressions and filled
in with the surrounding shell midden. Many of the skeletons placed in shallow graves,
especially the skulls, were crushed and shown signs of disturbance. Most of the
skeletons were found in tight coiled positions, which indicates the bodies may have
been wrapped, though there are a few instances of being placed sitting up, with even
less fully extended. The large number of
burials caused graves to intrude into others accidentally, though multiple burials
were common practice during the time the shell midden formed between the years 5500
and 2000 BC. Multiple burials were also typically circular, but larger and
lacked grave goods except for single projectile points near the chest cavities, which
suggest violence near time of death. Many skeletons were found dismembered, either
unintentionally or as an act of mutilation. If a grave happened to be dug intruding
another, the original body may have become dismembered, but normally the bones would
have been piled up and reburied. Occasionally pieces, such as skulls or limbs, were
not recovered, which Robert Mensforth considered evidence for warfare and trophy taking.
Grave goods were found within 187 burials, though shell beads, used for personal
adornments or sewed on garments, were not counted as a deliberate grave goods in one
study. The artifacts commonly associated with graves include pestles, hammerstones,
grooved axes, projectile points with a few cases of copper and stone vessels. There
were 43 atlatl weights, also known as bannerstones for spear-throwers, associated with
burials at Indian Knoll, and Webb's research focus when excavating this site to get
more information on this particular grave good.
This site, on Green River, is one of the most fully documented and largest of the
Archaic shell heap sites in the Eastern United States, and has provided vital
information on the Archaic Indian population. Excavation has yielded an important
collection of skeletal material from more than 1200 burials.
Thanks for looking.