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Prehistoric Cultures Revealed

Contact: Ralph Derickson

 

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There may be no way of specifically proving it, but Andrew Madsen, a senior staff archaeologist heading up the excavation of the Jefferson County site, said it is possible persons from the Mississippian and Fort Ancient Native American groups intermarried and traded products such as pottery and stone tools in the time of the settlement about 1350 A.D. This is in a time archaeologists call the “late prehistoric period” of 1000 to 1700 A.D., said Madsen, senior staff archaeologist in the Program for Archaeological Research in the Department of Anthropology, UK College of Arts and Sciences.

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August 29, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- An archaeological exploration in Louisville by a University of Kentucky team may show for the first time that two prehistoric cultures that lived near the Falls of the Ohio River in Louisville may have had substantial interaction.

During the explorations, it was determined the site is eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.

There may be no way of specifically proving it, but Andrew Madsen, a senior staff archaeologist heading up the excavation of the Jefferson County site, said it is possible persons from the Mississippian and Fort Ancient Native American groups intermarried and traded products such as pottery and stone tools in the time of the settlement about 1350 A.D. This is in a time archaeologists call the “late prehistoric period” of 1000 to 1700 A.D., said Madsen, senior staff archaeologist in the Program for Archaeological Research in the Department of Anthropology, UK College of Arts and Sciences.

The UK group unearthed thousands of artifacts from both the Mississippian and Fort Ancient cultures at a site on River Road near Zorn Avenue that is being prepared as an entrance road to Louisville’s Eva Bandman Park. The team is doing their site work under a contract with the Kentucky Department of Transportation.

Among the artifacts were fragments of clay pots, some tempered with crushed shells found along the Ohio River and others which had fabric-like patterns indicating they were fashioned from grass or other botanical material.

Also at the site were remnants of animals, spear tips, and “nutting stones,” sandstone rocks that have cupped out places where the residents would have crushed nuts for food. Showing a smaller and deeper hole in the sandstone and a narrow sharpened stone, Madsen said the occupants of the site might have twirled a sharply barbed stone tip found in the excavation on a stick in the hole to start fires.

One of the pots – about 18 inches in diameter – was likely a “salt pan,” Madsen said, used for gathering and saving salt for cooking and preserving meat. The UK researcher said that if any human remains were found at the site there would be consultations between the Kentucky Department of Transportation, Native American groups, and other relevant organizations.

Madsen, who has a master’s degree in anthropology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and who has been at UK for one year, said working at the Louisville site is very exciting and educational for the team members. “A big part of the department’s mission is to provide educational and professional experience to UK students – graduate and undergraduate – in a real-world cultural resource archaeological exploration,” he added.

“You rarely visit a site that is as culturally important as this one in the Falls of the Ohio River area,” he said. The findings are both new and important, Madsen said, “because Louisville grew up long before archaeology was conducted in a professional manner for the purposes of development.”

“This is one of the first sites ever explored that shows major characteristics of these two groups of people,” Madsen said. “This research is important for studying this prehistoric period.”

During the Phase II work at the site (officially designated Site 15JF668), it was determined that the prehistoric components of the site are important enough to make it eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Madsen said. Among the criteria the site had to meet to achieve historic designation status, Madsen explained, was that there cannot be a blend of material at the site from various time periods or cultures. For instance, he commented, “there cannot be a mix of prehistoric clay pots and McDonald’s hamburger wrappers.”

For additional information about the archaeology program, visit the Web site.


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