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Archaeologists excavate trench at the Singer site


Site ID: 15Sc3

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​In the 1920s, the University of Kentucky investigated the Singer site, where a two circular Fort Ancient villages extended across a broad ridgetop overlooking a bend in North Elkhorn Creek. University of Kentucky archaeologists returned in the late 1990s to do more research. In the late 2010s, archaeologists from East Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama joined University of Kentucky archaeologists to carry out additional research at the site.

Multiple seasons of work have documented at least six circular villages at the site. These villages document the movement of a single Fort Ancient community across the ridgetop. Community size may have varied over time, as new families were attracted to the village or as others moved away.  It also is possible that sometimes, more than one village at a time may have stood on the ridgetop.   

Each village is represented by a midden stain, which consists of concentric activity zones surrounding a central plaza.  The habitation zone was where houses were located. Residents buried their dead in front of their houses, close to the plaza.  They threw out their trash mainly in back of their houses.   

Drone photograph of house documented in Midden Stain E.


From the analysis of artifacts, coupled with information from radiocarbon dates, archaeologists have determined that five of the six midden stains date from 1300 to 1400 AD.  The sixth midden stain dates to the 1500s.  Midden Stain C is the largest, covering more than 2.5 acres. It has a diameter of 330 feet.  Its plaza has a diameter of 210 feet, and its midden ring is 55 feet wide.  

Two low, earthen burial mounds were once associated with Midden Stain C. In the 1920s, the University of Kentucky completely excavated the mound on the stain's southwestern perimeter.  The other mound is about 165 feet northeast of the first, on the plaza's northern edge.  It measures 60 feet in diameter and stands 3 feet tall.  There is no evidence that any mounds were associated with the site's other midden stains.​​

Magnetic gradiometry data from Singer.  Dark areas are the midden stains that surround their associated central plazas.

What's Cool?

​​Geophysical Investigations

​​​In the late 2010s, archaeologists used geophysical survey techniques at Singer to locate and map Native village locations and any potential house basins within each stain.

​Geophysical survey uses a varity of techniques to identify and map the physical, magnetic, electrical, and chemical properties of soil at a site, like trash pits and middens, walls, and houses. These techniques measure electrical current conduction, magnetisim, electromagnetisim, or sound waves. Because many natural and human activities can impact soils, geophysical researchers use multiple survey ​techniques to get ​​the most complete picture of a site's below-ground deposits. 

Magnetic gradiometry was one technique archaeologists used at Singer. This technique works in ways similar to a metal detector. The instrument - a magnetometer- measures the below-surface magnetic signature and magnetic intensity of metals like iron, nickel, and cobalt.  Soils in midden stains, houses, and trash pits will have different values of magnetic intensity than surrounding soils. These areas showed up on the Singer maps as darker areas. 

The most productive technique used at Singer was electromagnetic induction.​Electromagnetic induction instruments measure the electrical conductivity (electro-) and the magnetic suseptibility (-magnetic) of soils. They do this by creating an electromagnetic field around the instrument, which then sends electrical currents into the soil. The instrument then measures the soil's electrical and magnetic properties. At Singer, heightened electrical and magnetic soil properties corresponded to midden stains - areas where Native people had built houses, threw out trash, and buried their dead. On the Singer maps, these midden stains showed up as dark red areas. 

Prior to the geophysical survey, archaeologists had documented four midden stains at Singer using traditional archaeological survey techniques.  Geophysical survey helped researchers confirm two additional midden stains, and they suspect that a third may be present. This brings the total number of midden stains - and circular villages - at Singer to seven. This discovery makes Singer unique for​​ Kentucky and indeed for the entire Fort Ancient region. 

Electrical conductivity data from Singer.  Red areas are the midden stains that surround their associated central plazas.

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