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Men working at Indian Knoll.

Indian Knoll

Site ID: 15Oh2

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


​​​​​​​​​​​Indian Knoll is a shell midden site located along the Green River.  During the late 1930s, as part of Works Progress Administration (WPA) economic recovery efforts during the Depression, archaeologists from the University of Kentucky excavated over 65,000 square feet (1.5 acres; 60 percent of the site) of Indian Knoll. They documented numerous hearths, roasting pits, and burned clay floors.  In addition to several hundred burials, they also documented 23 dog burials. They recovered more than 50,000 artifacts, such as spear points, bone pins, marine shell beads, and bannerstones. 

Native hunter-gatherers occupied the site mainly during the Late Archaic period (3000 to 1000 BC).  In the early 1990s, Indian Knoll and 19 other Green River shell midden sites became National Historic Landmarks.

A good example of a shell midden.


​​The Archaic families who periodically lived at Indian Knoll hunted a variety of animals, including deer. They gathered wild plants, such as hickory nuts; fished; and collected river ​mussels. 

These people were mobile hunters and gatherers, who did not live in a single spot all year. Instead, they moved with the seasons. But their lives were not ones of aimless wandering. Families planned their moves carefully, drawing on their deep knowledge of the life cycles of local plants and animals and the locations of other natural resources they needed. The nearby mussel shoal may have drawn them to Indian Knoll initially. But other abundant food resources, such as turtles, deer, and nut-bearing trees, would have kept them at this spot for extended periods.

Archaeological analysis of the Indian Knoll skeletons revealed that, in general, Green River Valley Archaic hunter-gatherers were relatively healthy.  Most experienced dental problems, however, due to badly worn teeth. ​Eating nuts, certain kinds of plants, and mussels may have helped wear-down their teeth. But it was more likely that processing foods as they did - with sandstone pestles and nutting stones - added substantial amounts of small angular grit particles to their foods. Over time, these grit particles wore-down their tooth enamel, exposing the pulp.

​River mussels were an important part of their diet. Five thousand years ago, many different mussel species lived in the shallow shoal and riffle areas of the Green River.  Mussels were a good, predictable, protein-rich source of food. They were abundant, easily gathered, and simple to prepare. Unlike many other foods, they could be harvested in any season. 

Women and children collected shellfish in shallow waters at the river’s edge. Men, on the other hand, retrieved mussels by diving. Evidence that supports this gendered division of labor are the bony growths observed on men's inner ear bones. These sorts of growths only develop when a person's ears are repeatedly exposed to cold water. These growths suggest that the men dove ​deep to the river bottom to retrieve shellfish.

Women and their children collect freshwater mussels in one of the river's many shoals.

What's Cool?

​Among the interesting archaeological finds at Indian Knoll were the 23 dog burials investigated during fieldwork. Archaic period dogs were medium-sized and stood about 14-18 inches tall at the shoulder. Archaeologists think they may have been long-haired and may have looked a little like their cousin, the wolf.  

Archaic people buried some dogs in their own graves, while other dogs were buried in graves with people - both adults and children. Analysis of dog bones indicated that Archaic dogs ate a similar diet as people, but it is hard to know whether people fed them or if the dogs scavenged scraps. 

Archaeological evidence shows that dogs had a special place in the lives of Archaic people. They did not treat any other animal the way they treated dogs. People may have considered dogs merely trainable beasts of burden that made hunting and movement from camp to camp easier. Or, their dogs could have been pets, companions, and protectors. Apparently, even 5,000 years ago, dogs clearly were “man’s best friend."

An Archaic period man and his dog prepare to leave on a hunting trip.

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