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Cold Oak Shelter.

Cold Oak

Site ID: 15Le50

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


​​​​​​The Cold Oak site is a rock overhang in a high east-facing cliff. Daniel Boone National Forest archaeologists recorded the site in 1983 and conducted excavations there in 1984. In 1994, Ohio State University archaeologists returned to the site to do more excavation. Research at Cold Oak, in conjunction with excavations at other rockshelters in eastern Kentucky, has contributed to our understanding of plant domestication in Eastern North America.

Native peoples primarily occupied the site toward the end of the Late Archaic (1200-1000 BC). Analysis of plant remains and associated artifacts indicated that Native hunter-gatherers used the site seasonally throughout the year. At Cold Oak, archaeologists determined that by 1200 BC, although people were still depending on the wild plants they gathered and on the animals they hunted, they were relying more on the crops they grew in their own gardens.

Forest Service archaeologist examines the site's surface.


​The Late Archaic deposits at Cold Oak produced an abundance of wild and domesticated plant remains, animal remains, and stone and wooden tools. Wild plant remains consisted primarily of hickory, walnut, acorns (red and white oak), and chestnut. Domesticated plants found in storage pits included charred and uncharred seeds of sunflower, goosefoot, knotweed, marshelder, squash, and possibly maygrass. 

Among the other preserved plant remains were bits of cordage and a wooden tool that may have been used for weaving. The recovery of the latter suggested that textile production took place at the site. Large quantities of wood chips and a celt fragment indicated that woodworking also may have taken place at Cold Oak.

Animal resources recovered from the shelter included white-tailed deer, turkey, squirrel, black bear, box turtle, and fish bones, crayfish fragments, and freshwater mussel shells.

Site map showing excavation units, boulders, and looter disturbance.

What's Cool?

​Evidence for Plant Domestication

​Cold Oak is one of several rockshelters in eastern Kentucky where archaeologists have recovered early evidence for plant domestication. Between 5000 to 4000 years ago, ​groups throughout eastern Kentucky began to domesticate starchy- and oily-seed plants, such as sunflower, marshelder, and goosefoot. Although many of these plants are considered weeds today, they produce large quantities of nutritious seeds. Researchers use traits such as an increase in seed size, a change in seed shape, or a thinning of the seed coat over several centuries to determine that Native peoples domesticated these local plants. 

Some archaeologists think that Native groups living in Kentucky began growing plants to make up for increasingly undependable nut harvests. Others think groups may have started to produce and store more starchy and oily seeds because the seeds represented an additional storable food resource families could eat during the lean winter months.

Charred goosefoot seeds.

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