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1805 map of Kentucky


Site ID: 15Li88

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
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​​​​Prior to construction work on U.S. Highway 150, archaeologists from the University of Kentucky investigated the remains of an early nineteenth-century house owned by Morgan Vardeman.  Despite the lack of intact architectural features - foundations, piers, or posts - architecture-related artifacts from the site revealed the location of the Vardeman house and provided information on how it was built. Soil chemistry analysis also provided insights into activities carried out around the house.​

William Menifee was the first property owner. He occupied it in 1781 as colonists were establishing the Wilderness Trail through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.  In 1789, Menifee sold his property to his father-in law, John Vardeman, Jr.  Vardeman’s son Morgan took over the property in 1803.  Most of the artifacts from the site date to Morgan Vardeman’s occupation of the property, which lasted until ca. 1850.​​

Examples of decorated ceramics discarded by the Vardeman Family.


​The archaeological remains at the Vardeman site consisted of large amounts of artifacts associated with the Vardeman Family.  Concentrations of architecture-related artifacts, such as window glass, nails, and brick fragments, indicated the general outline of their house and where it once stood.  Analysis of the nails and window glass suggested that the building was probably a log structure.  

Ceramic dish fragments indicated that the Vardeman Family purchased the most popular and expensive styles of dishes of the time and participated in tea-taking traditions like their middle class counterparts on the East Coast.  

The recovered animal bones revealed that the Vardeman Family ate a variety of wild game, such as deer, squirrel, duck, bobwhite, and turkey. But like their neighbors, they also ate large quantities of pork, with lesser amounts of beef and chicken.

Base of a stone wall documented at the Vardeman site.

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​Soil Chemistry

Plowing had removed most of the architectural remains of the Vardeman house. So, archaeologists turned to the spatial distribution of the artifacts, but also to soil chemistry analysis, to help them identify the house location and the waste disposal areas in the yards that surrounded it.

The Vardeman Family threw away many things, but what was most significant for the soil chemistry analysis, were the organic remains - food, human waste - and ash from fireplaces they disposed of. As these materials decomposed, their presence changed the chemistry of the soil.

Researchers interpreted areas with high levels of potassium and magnesium as places where burning had taken place, such as a hearth, or where family members had thrown out ash after cleaning-out hearths. Other site areas showed high levels of phosphate, calcium, manganese, and zinc.  These areas were interpreted as places where organic materials linked to privies and trashpits were deposited.

Knives recovered from the Vardeman site.

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