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Cane torch recovered from an archaeological site

Carpenter Cave

Site ID: 15Al22

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


​​​​​Carpenter Cave in Allen County has about 1.5 miles of passages. Around 2800 years ago, Native Americans repeatedly visited this site to mine gypsum (selenite) crystals from wall and floor sediments. Native groups may have used gypsum as a source of paint.

Cane torch marks on the cave wall.


​Native American cavers mined Carpenter Cave for gypsum. Archaeologists have identified various forms of evidence for these ancient mining activities: numerous digging marks throughout the cave; the large volume of upturned sediment; torch marks on walls; and fragments of charcoal from cane, sticks, and possibly weed stalks commonly used as torches by Native Americans.

​Radiocarbon dates from this site indicate that Native mining took place toward the beginning of the Early Woodland period (800 BC). Other Kentucky caves with similar physical evidence of Early Woodland mining are Mammoth Cave and Salts Cave.

Digging stick holes - evidence of dislodging soil containing gypsum.

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​Dating the Mining

Cave archaeologists found a single large piece of burned river cane (Arundinaria gigantea) weighing 1.2 grams lying on a sloping ledge along the west wall of the cave passage. Native American miners had thoroughly excavated the sediment lying on top of this ledge, especially where it met the wall of the cave. The sediment had later tumbled down the sloping ledge surface. 

They chose this sample for radiocarbon dating because of its association with large amounts of upturned soils that bore evidence of digging stick marks. This suggested to the archaeologists that the burned river cane fragment had been part of a torch used by the Native miners.

Burned river cane torch fragment.

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