Photo: (L to R) Stuart Nealis (UK grad student), Dwight Cropper (Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission), Josh McConaughy (Archaeological Conservancy), Kary Stackelbeck (KHC), Charlie Holbrook (local attorney), Bruce VanHorn (President, Town Square Bank), Helen Danser (Chair, KNAHC), and George Crothers (UK anthropology professor) at dedication.
By Gail Hairston
(May 28, 2015) — University of Kentucky anthropology doctoral students and professors played an instrumental role in the donation of a prehistoric Native American mound in Greenup County to the Archaeological Conservancy, a national nonprofit dedicated to acquiring and protecting endangered archaeological sites.
Five acres of land — located within a rural subdivision in Greenup County and encompassing the mound plus two additional parcels — were donated by the owners, Town Square Bank. Representatives of the bank and conservancy witnessed the transfer of the land deed at a ceremony May 12, during National Historic Preservation Month. The earthwork was named the Town Square Mound, in honor of the bank’s contribution.
The mound was initially reported to the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC)/State Historic Preservation Office in Frankfort by the original landowner. Because the UK Office of State Archaeology did not have an Indian mound identified at that location, Kary Stackelbeck, site protection administrator at KHC; George Crothers, Kentucky's state archaeologist, associate professor of anthropology at UK and director of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology; and UK doctoral student Stuart Nealis visited the site to determine if the mound was prehistoric. Their investigation indicated the mound was not a recent feature and at least one other smaller mound was located nearby.
The elliptical mound measures approximately 20 feet high by 80 feet long. UK doctoral students Nealis and Barry Kidder examined sediment cores from the mound in UK anthropology professor Christopher Pool’s geoarchaeology class using geochemical, magnetic susceptibility and x-ray fluorescence techniques to study the construction history. Nealis and Kidder presented the results of their work at the Society for American Archaeology meetings last year in Austin, Texas.
Preliminary results indicate the mound was last occupied 600 years ago, but may have been built as early as 2,000-2,500 years ago. Additional radiocarbon dating is planned to determine a more exact date for its initial construction. The Office of State Archaeology and UK students will continue their work this summer.
“This mound is very intact, which is unusual, so there is a great deal it might be able to tell us about early Native American culture,” said Josh McConaughy, associate director of the conservancy’s Midwest regional office.
“Any type of research we might allow going forward would not be invasive, but we would be open to further studies by professional archaeologists that could consist of core samples, ground penetrating radar, or other technology that would help us learn more fully what this site was used for.
“We hope that others might recognize a similar feature on their own property and take action to protect it,” said McConaughy.
Crothers said, “More than 27,000 archaeological sites are recorded in the state, but that represents only 5 percent of the potential sites that exist. We work with landowners to identify and preserve American Indian and early historic sites on their property whenever possible. Students are an integral part in helping to document and study these sites as part of their education.”