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Archaeologist excavate Crumps Sink.

Crumps Sink

Site ID: 15Wa6

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


​​​​Crumps Sink, in Warren County, Kentucky, has a diameter of more than 350 feet and drains into a cave. Over a period of 4,000 years, the sinkhole filled with s​​ediment. This sediment protected cultural deposits, effectively sealing a stratified archaeological record of Native American hunter-gatherer use of the site dating from 5000 to 1000 BC.

Investigation of the sink in 2015 by archaeologists from the University of Kentucky as part of a dissertation research project documented nearly 13 feet of archaeological deposits spanning the Middle Archaic through Late Archaic periods (ca. 5000-1000 BC). The focus of the research was to gain a better understanding of changing past human land-use strategies in south-central Kentucky, and in particular, how Native Americans' use of fire changed the local landscape.  ​​

For safety, archaeologists shored-up the sides of the excavation unit (photograph by George Crothers).


Archaeological investigations within Crumps Sink involved the excavation of a 3 x 6-foot unit dug to a depth of nearly 13 feet.

Because sediment filled the sink consistently through time, spear points were separated stratigraphically, allowing for an analysis of changing spear point styles at the site and within the region dating to the Middle Archaic and Late Archaic period. The most deeply buried examples were Raddatz Side Notched spear points from the Late Middle Archaic period. Above these were Late Archaic McWhinney Heavy Stemmed spear points. Toward the end of the Late Archaic period, groups who visited the sink made Motley spear points.  

A total of 12 radiocarbon dates from site's various strata allowed researchers to develop a more fine-grained occupational sequence for the site and to learn more about not only when hunter-gatherers visited Crumps Sink but about the activities they undertook.​

Spear point style changes over time: Raddatz Side Notched (left), McWhinney Heavy Stemmed (center), Motley (right).

What's Cool?

​Native Ecosystem Management with Fire

The buried deposits at Crumps Sink contained a well-preserved paleoenvironmental record. It held evidence of Native American use of fire to manage ecosystems in the Sinkhole Plain region of Kentucky. 

Analysis of soil samples documented an increase in the amount of ash toward the end of the Middle Archaic, around 3500 BC. These ash levels increased throughout the Late Archaic, ending around 1000 BC. Archaeologists believe that these fires were intentionally set by Native Americans to manage vegetation, and that their repeated setting of these fires was responsible for creating the Big Barrens grasslands of Kentucky. 

Native Americans likely used fire to promote the growth of the nut-bearing trees, such as hickory and black walnut, they relied on for food; to expand forest edge areas to attract animals, such as deer and turkey; and later, to open-up areas for growing starchy- or oily-seeded native cultigens, such as maygrass, sunflower, and goosefoot, in gardens.​

 Big Barrens Grassland of Kentucky (photograph by Justin Carlson).

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