The Grizzly Newt site is located within Daniel Boone National Forest in Jackson County on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau. A rugged region of hills and mountains, dissected uplands, narrow ridges, and steep-sided valleys, the area's many rockshelters witnessed human habitation for more than 10,000 years.
Grizzly Newt is a semi-circular, dry, sandstone rockshelter along an east-west trending ridgeline. It sits at the head of a hollow with a southern exposure. Measuring approximately 140 feet long and 25 feet deep, this location was prime real estate. Recent illegal digging for artifacts has damaged this site and left behind a surface with dirt piles and deep holes.
Eastern Kentucky University carried out limited excavations at Grizzly Newt in 2016 as part of its archaeological field school. These investigations uncovered evidence for multiple occupations by different Native American groups. The most exciting discovery was well-preserved evidence for Native use during the Early Archaic (8000 to 6000 BC).
Excavation at Grizzly Newt recovered artifacts that reflect more than 9,000 years of periodic visits by Native Americans. Occupations during the Early Archaic, Middle Archaic, and Fort Ancient periods were the best represented. The Early Archaic Kirk horizon was the most exciting, because it offered researchers a unique opportunity to study short-term camps of this period.
Organically stained layers of soil yielded hearths and small pits, many Early Archaic chipped stone tools, and with small amounts of animal and plant remains. Radiocarbon dates - 6403-6523 BC and 7525-7666 BC - were obtained on samples from two of the Early Archaic hearths. Associated with the oldest dates were goosefoot seeds, the wild ancestors of the plant Native peoples in Eastern Kentucky later domesticated and cultivated during the Late Archaic period. The animal and plant remains – deer, turkey, and hickory nuts - indicated that some Native visits to the rockshelter were in the fall, when groups hunted a variety of animals and collected seasonally available wild plants.
Don’t Judge a Rockshelter by Its Surface!
People digging for artifacts – arrowheads and spear points – have heavily damaged many rockshelters in eastern Kentucky, leaving sites looking like the cratered surface of the moon. These looters have destroyed thousands of years of Kentucky’s earliest history.
But not all this history has been lost! Through careful excavation of rockshelters like Grizzly Newt, researchers have discovered that archaeological remains often survive beneath the damage. Also, by studying sites with disturbed surfaces the same way sites with undisturbed surfaces are studied, investigators can salvage the information and history thrown out during looting. In this way, they can calculate just how much has been lost.
At Grizzly Newt, researchers were able to investigate buried intact deposits, and learn more about Native peoples who lived in Kentucky for thousands of years before European Americans displaced them. Despite the destruction caused by the quest for "points,” the rich history of Kentucky’s first residents often survives, and we can still learn from it.
Keep the Search Alive!
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