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Excavation of the Robbins Mound

Robbins Mounds

Site ID: 15Be3 and 15Be14

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


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Robbins Mounds are a pair of conical, Middle Woodland period Adena earthen burial mounds that once sat on an upland ridge crest in Boone County. Local men hired by the University of Kentucky during the Depression excavated both mounds in 1939.  

After workers removed the trees, archaeologists superimposed a 5 by 5-foot grid over each mound.  Workers then proceeded to excavate the mounds, one square at a time. After work began on the larger mound, the field team realized that, given its height, they would have to excavate it in sections.

The larger of the two (15Be3) held evidence of mortuary events that took place over several decades. The smaller mound (15Be14) appeared to have been used for a much shorter period. The presence of both mounds on this upland ridge indicated that the location was a ritually significant one for Adena people, who had buried their dead there for ​​​​decades, and that it was an important place on the Middle Woodland cultural landscape.  ​

The larger Robbins Mound before excavation (Note person standing on top of the mound).


The larger mound (15Be3) measured 131 feet in diameter and stood 20 feet tall.  Before building the mound, the Adena people had erected a large (30-foot diameter) circular enclosure on the spot. The walls of this structure leaned outward slightly. There was no evidence that the walls had been bark-covered or that they had supported a roof.  Rather, the enclosure probably functioned as some sort of screen that blocked ritual activities going on inside it from general view. Archaeologists found a large area of burned soil inside the enclosure, probably from a fire linked to the ritual activities.

​While the circular enclosure was still in use, Adena people built a small earthen mound inside it, and buried the cremated remains of several individuals within it​​.  Some time later, they covered both the circular enclosure and the mound with more soil.  

In the years that followed, Adena groups who used the mound placed 52 log and bark-lined tombs within it, and it grew in size.  Old and young adults, and males and females were represented in roughly equal numbers. Some tombs contained the remains of more than one individual, which suggests that mourners sometimes reused tombs. At least 100 individuals - 89 of which were interred in log and bark-lined tombs - eventually were buried in the mound. 

During the mound's final period of use, Adena groups buried their dead in pits around it.  Once the mound was no longer used as a cemetery, they capped it with a final ​layer of soil.

The smaller Robbins Mound (15Be14) was located about 100 feet south of the larger mound.  It stood only about 2 feet high - historic plowing had reduced its height - and its diameter could not be determined.  Unlike the larger Robbins Mound, 15Be14 held only one mortuary feature, probably a log-lined tomb containing from one to several individuals.  The limited number of burials in this mound indicates that, in comparison to the larger mound, 15Be14 was used for a relatively short time.

A WPA worker measures the angle of a wall post in the circular submound structure.

What's Cool?

​Log Tombs

Adena​​ groups who used the larger Robbins Mound generally built tombs by piling up soil to form a level floor surrounded by higher ramps. These ramps joined the mound's flank to form a rectangular cavity, which they then often lined with logs.  Thus, tombs associated with a particular mound construction episode tended to encircle the mound.  

After placing an individual in the tomb, mourners covered it with logs and soil.  As they added tombs to the mound over time, it grew in size.​​​​

Artist's reconstruction of a log-lined tomb.

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