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Geophysical map showing outline of ditch and embankment.

LeBus Circle

Site ID: 15Bb1

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


​​​​​​​​​LeBus Circle sits on the floodplain of the South Fork of the Licking River.  Native people built and used this large circular earthen enclosure toward the end of the Early Woodland period (400 to 200 BC) period, and then used it again toward the end of the Fort Ancient period (1500 to 1650 AD).  

Constantine Rafinesque was the first to document the site in the early nineteenth century. LeBus Circle was just one of the many mounds and earthworks this naturalist and antiquarian from Lexington’s Transylvania University diligently mapped throughout Kentucky.  William S. Webb and William D. Funkhouser of the University of Kentucky visited the site in the 1930s, and collected a small sample of Fort Ancient ceramics.  

But it was not until 2008 that the site was examined in-depth. Working with archaeologists from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Edward Henry (at the time, pursuing his Master’s Degree at the University of Mississippi) conducted geophysical survey and excavations at the site.  

Geophysical map showing outline of ditch, opening, embankment, and the location of a spring.


Archaeological research at LeBus Circle focused on determining the size of the enclosure, when it was  constructed, and its history of use.  A geophysical survey revealed the ditch and the surrounding embankment.  

An entrance, indicated by a well-defined break in the ditch and embankment, is along the earthwork's eastern boundary. A second possible opening - on the west - is located directly opposite the eastern entrance.  This could be another intentional gap in the ditch, but not in the embankment.  The embankment is still present and this area is extremely low and likely prone to flooding. Thus, flood waters may have scoured the ditch in this portion of the site.  

Based on the results of the geophysical work, investigators determined that the enclosure measured 500 feet in diameter from outer embankment to outer embankment. This makes LeBus Circle one of the largest circular enclosures in central Kentucky.  

It appears that Native people built the enclosure during a single event. They removed dirt from a 5-foot-deep ditch and then mounded it outward to form an outer embankment.  Radiocarbon dates suggest it was built toward the end of the Early Woodland period.  At that time, Native groups would have used it for group-wide rituals.

During its initial period of use, the ditch likely began to partially refill due to erosion. When Native groups no longer used the enclosure for large public gatherings, the ground surface stabilized. Evidence shows that for several hundred years, little soil was deposited in the ditch. Late Woodland and Fort Ancient groups may have continued to periodically maintain the site and revisit it for community-wide rituals, but this use did not leave much of a signature in the archaeological record.  

Sometime in the late 1500s, it appears that Fort Ancient peoples began to use the site for extended periods.  An increase in the amount of soil and charcoal deposited within the ditch from this time raises the possibility that Fort Ancient people periodically set fire to nearby vegetation to redefine or restore the circle to a suitable condition.  It is also possible that these groups intentionally refilled the ditch to remove all visible evidence of it from the landscape.  

Late Fort Ancient Madisonville decorated jar fragments.

What's Cool?

​Use of Spring/Seep​

During investigations, researchers documented a pit-like depression next to a spring/seep located within the enclosure.  A three-dimensional model of the spring and depression showed​ a gradual angle on its northern half and a sharp, almost vertical, angle on the southern half.  The shape of the northern half suggested that it ​may have provided access to the spring, while, in comparison, the shape of the southern half suggested that people may have modified that side.​

It is possible that the spring/seep may have been the reason Early Woodland people built the enclosure at this location.  In Native American mythology, springs are often viewed as portals to the underworld.  

Based on a radiocarbon date from the bottom of the pit-like depression and analysis of the artifacts from it, archaeologists concluded that Fort Ancient groups last used the spring after 1500 AD. However, they do not know how long Fort Ancient people had used the spring/seep before it was refilled.  The spring is no longer visible today.  

Three-dimensional model showing the shape of the pit-like depression near the spring.

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