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Archaeologists excavating and documenting graves.

Horse Park Cemetery

Site ID: 15Fa315

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


​​​​​​​​​​​The Horse Park Cemetery sat on a ridgetop overlooking an unnamed tributary of Cane Run Creek.  Since the headstones had been removed sometime before the Commonwealth of Kentucky purchased the property, state officials did not know the cemetery was there when construction for a new arena was slated for the area. 

Construction activities began in 2008 and impacted the cemetery. Work stopped and archaeologists from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey documented the cemetery before work could resume. As a result of this effort it was determined that 34 individuals - infants, children, adolescents, and adults of European-American and African-American descent - had been buried in the cemetery. 

About 300 feet east of the Horse Park Cemetery is a small fenced-in cemetery that encloses four marked burials. They belong to members of the Graves family. The death dates on these headstones range from 1829 to 1849. Several unmarked graves are probably in this cemetery as well, some of which may extend beyond the current fenced-in area. A review of historic records and deeds suggested that both cemeteries were on land owned by the Graves family in the early to mid-nineteenth century.​

An archaeologist carefully exposes a burial.


​Each person buried in this cemetery was placed in a wooden​ coffin built with hand-wrought or machine-cut nails and screws. Analysis of coffin hardware and artifacts - buttons, pins, fabric, and shoes - indicated that everyone died sometime between 1800 and 1860. Reseachers used these items to determine the growth and development of the Horse Park Cemetery. Nine burials dated to before 1830; five dated from 1830 to 1835; and 20 dated from 1835 to 1860.

At death, both European-Americans and African-Americans appear to have been treated much the same way. They were dressed in their best clothes, their arms carefully arranged across their chest, on their pelvis or adjacent to their body, and placed in a plain wooden coffin.  Differe​​​nces in age at death, height, weight, and pathologies, however, are evidenced in the bones of the two groups. They reflected the much harsher living and working conditions that slavery imposed on individuals of African descent.

Everyone interred in the Horse Park Cemetery engaged in hard work, but African-American adults appeared to have had shorter life spans, experienced more nutritional stress, were shorter, and weighed more than members of the Graves family.  A diet high in sugar and starch would not have provided African-Americans adequate protein, thus poor diet could account for the differences in height and weight between the two groups. 

Mother-of-pearl hair comb found with a woman buried in the cemetery.

What's Cool?

​Grave Orientation

Grave orientation differed by race within the Horse Park Cemetery. European-American graves were oriented east-west, with the head pointing west. In contrast, African-American graves were primarily oriented northwest-southeast, with the head pointing northwest. 

Because ​most of the enslaved African-Americans' graves were oriented differently from those of European-Americans, it appears that at death, people of African heritage attempted to hold onto to their own belief systems, if only in some small way.

Horse Park Cemetery map showing orientation of graves of European-American (blue) and African-American (orange) descent.

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