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Late Woodland projectile points.

Shelby Lake & Old Bear

Site ID: 15Sh17, 15Sh18

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


​​​​​​​Shelby Lake (15Sh17) and Old Bear (15Sh18) are small Late Woodland sites located about 200 feet apart on an upland ridge crest overlooking Clear Creek in Shelby County.  The Kentucky Heritage Council investigated the Shelby Lake site in 1992 and the University of Kentucky investigated the Old Bear site in 1979.  Both sites represent small seasonal early Late Woodland (500-800 AD) camps, and each was occupied by one or two households.  ​​

A large pit, seen in profile, with a concentration of burned limestone.


​Ceramics from these two sites are very similar to those from the contemporary Pyles site in Mason County and the Haystack Rockshelter in Menifee County.  Ceramic jar fragments from Shelby Lake and Old Bear tend to have cordmarked exteriors, thin walls, flat rims, and angular shoulders.  Some of the jars have distinctive castellated rims (​​pointed peaks).  Though very common at the Old Bear site, these types of jar rims account for less than one percent of jar rims recovered from contemporary sites in central and northern Kentucky.

Pit features at these sites yielded large amounts of burned limestone and animal bone.  This suggested to researchers that they were cooking/roasting pits.  By count, the most common animals were deer, black bear, turtle, and raccoon.  Investigators recovered the remains of black bear from nine of the 10 Shelby Lake features. This reflected the importance of the meat from this animal to the diet of site residents.  

It also may indicate that Native peoples occuppied the site during the winter, when black bears hibernate. That would have make the animals easier to kill. Further support for this statement comes from the Old Bear site. Archaeologists recovered the remains an elderly female black bear and two yearlings.  Because yearlings may remain with their mother until the birth of other cubs, it is possible that the three bears represent a single winter kill episode. ​

Almost forty percent of the wood charcoal from the Shelby Lake pits was white oak.  The next most common woods were hickory, white ash, and American chestnut.  Together these species reflect the presence of a mixed oak-hickory forest in the vicinity of both sites. 

The most common plant food remains from these two sites were hickory nuts and maygrass seeds. Native peoples collected and ate hickory nuts for their high protein and fat content.  Maygrass was one of several native plants Native Americans domesticated in Kentucky.  Maygrass seeds are highly nutritious. They contain more protein and fat than domesticated grains, such as corn, wheat, and barley.

Cordmarked castellated jar rims.

What's Cool?

​Bone Marrow Extraction

Most of the deer and bear long bones from Shelby Lake and Old Bear had been fractured length-wise to produce "bone grease."   

Bone grease is the fat and marrow derived from the spongy bone in the ends of long bones and is very high in fat and nutrients.  Native people broke the spongy bone into fragments and boiled them in water. The fat and marrow then floated to the top and they skimmed it off for later use.​

Chert celt that was used for scraping hides.

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