Friday, June 1, 2012



Abstract from a paper titled The Fluvial and Geomorphic Context of Indian Knoll, an Archaic Shell Midden in West-Central Kentucky

By: DarcyF. Morey, George M. Crothers, Julie K. Stein, James P. Fenton, and Nicholas P. Herrmann - Date of publication unknown

Indian Knoll (Oh2 in map above) holds a special place in the history of North American archaeology. The most famous of numerous late Middle and Late Archaic period (ca. 6000–3000 yr B.P.) shell middens along the Green River in Kentucky, it first attracted the attention of the archaeological explorer C.B. Moore, who in 1915 removed 298 burials and associated artifacts. Later, under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), William Webb supervised extensive excavations at several Green River sites during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Webb’s crews removed another 880 human burials along with 55,000 artifacts from Indian Knoll, and in so doing, excavated most of the site. Webb’s monograph on Indian Knoll (Webb, 1946), republished in 1974 (Webb, 1974), is the longest report stemming from the WPA work along the Green River and stands as a classic in the literature of North American archaeology.

The importance of Indian Knoll, however, lies not in its history of professional work, but in how that history shapes our understanding of eastern Archaic period life in general and the Green River Archaic in particular. The WPA work along the Green River, with Indian Knoll as the “signature” site, was a key component in establishing the concept of an Archaic period in eastern North. The human skeletal remains from Indian Knoll are the most widely used Archaic period sample for archaeological studies in eastern North; thus, these people are the foundation for our understanding of health and nutrition in Archaic times.

On the one hand, we can credibly describe these people as fisher-gatherer-hunters with complex political, ecological, and economic strategies but with minimal social ranking and little investment in horticulture. Much is known about their mortuary customs, skeletal biology, bone-working industries, and the scale and content of the major midden accumulations they left behind. On the other hand, we are much less sure why major sites are positioned as they are on the landscape, and how different sites were used in relation to each other.


Note: There are two rare books about the Ohio County Indian Knoll site.  Here is a short description of these two books:

Indian Knoll - Two Titles

Some Aboriginal Sites on Green River, Kentucky
Certain Aboriginal Sites on Lower Ohio River
Additional Investigation on Mississippi River
Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Vol XVI
"Along part of Green river, Ky., and particularly in "The Indian Knoll," Ohio County, were found by us objects of antler, hooked at one end and having a cavity in the other end, in which sometimes was asphalt, used for fastening something introduced into the cavity... Usually in intimate association with these hooked implements of antler were found, in nearly every instance where the hooked implements were present, as exactly described later in this report, other objects, some of antler (most of which were made from the base of the horn), some of stone... Hereafter in this report, for convenience and not because we are fully convinced they are such, we shall designate the hooked implements as needles and the objects found with them as sizers. We were aware that we had to face two probable objections in connection with our determination, namely, the orifices in the ends of the needles, and the perforations in the sizers, neither of which seem absolutely necessary for the use to which the needles and sizers were assigned." Clarence B. Moore
The Original excavation of Indian Knoll by Clarence B. Moore in 1915.  These are the findings which piqued Webb's curiosity about the hooked antler implements and bannerstones.  Also contains the four colored plates of bannerstones by Mary Louise Baker.

Excavations at Indian Knoll - W.S. Webb
"From a careful study of this body of artifacts, their position in the graves, and their association with each other, the conviction has grown that all of these antler hooks are the distal ends of atlatls. All of the antler sections are handles, attached to the proximal end of the atlatl, and the "banner" stones, subrectangular bars, and composite shell artifacts are all atatl weights.”  

“As a teenager, in the mid-1960's, my uncle took me to meet one of the well known artifact collectors of Ohio.  While looking at his collection of bannerstones I mentioned that I had read somewhere of them being used as altatl weights.  His response was that atlatls had been found in caves in the Southwest but not in the East, so there was no evidence of this.  Little did I realize at that time that a definitive study of their use as weights had been published 20 years previously by William S, Webb of the University of Kentucky.   The in-situ finds of atlatl handles, weights and hooks left little doubt of their aboriginal use.
The first excavation at the site was by Clarence B. Moore in 1915 but it was confined to a limited area.  We are  very fortunate that the Moore excavations did not destroy the entire site and that Webb was able to recover some of the most compelling evidence of the use and construction of the atlatl in the Eastern United States.”

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