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Fort Ancient (AD 1350-1450)

Artist reconstruction of a Fort Ancient village. 


The Slone site (15Pi11) is a Fort Ancient village located in southeastern Kentucky on the north bank of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River.  Prior to the inundation of Fishtrap Reservoir, approximately eighty percent of the site was excavated in 1963-1964 by the University of Kentucky.  Based on this work it was determined that this circular village contained at least 12 houses arranged around a central plaza.  The site was occupied for 30 to 45 years as indicated by repeated rebuilding of  houses and the palisade. 


Village Layout

As with the Florence site in Harrison County, the Slone site was organized in concentric activity zones that surrounded a central plaza.  A cooking/storage zone bordered the plaza.  This zone contained earth ovens, storage pits, and the remnants of surface fires.  The lack of refuse found in this zone indicates that it was regularly swept in order to provide a clean place to work.  Porticoes (shelters) were attached to the plaza side of some houses to protect part of this work area from the elements.

Site map of Slone. Notice the expansion of the palisade and house outlines.  

The earth ovens provide evidence of how Fort Ancient people cooked their food.  Ovens were constructed by digging a pit and placing a layer of sand on the bottom to receive heated rocks.  Food would have been placed on the heated rocks and covered until cooked.  Several earth ovens had been cleaned out as if intended for re-use.  Storage pits are either rock-lined or contain the remains of large ceramic vessels that had been placed in the pit as a liner. 


Pottery jar handles recovered from Slone. Jars would have been used for storage and cooking.  

Bordering the storage/cooking zone was a residential zone consisting of the remains of houses.  They were identified as a series of post holes forming a rectangular outline.  On average the houses measured 28 x 19 feet (8.5 x 5.8 m). About half of the houses contained a central fire pit.  The village configuration suggests the houses were constructed in reference to the plaza because the long axis of each house was oriented towards the center of the site.  Trash was discarded behind houses and family and kin-related cemeteries were located between the structures and the palisade wall.  Throughout the life of the village, trash (ceramic jar fragments, broken arrow heads, and animal bone) was discarded behind each house.  These materials accumulated in large piles, which archaeologists refer to as sheet middens. 


The dead were buried in cemeteries located in back of the houses.  Individuals were usually laid on their back in shallow pits and placed with their head facing to the east or southeast.  Many of the graves were covered with large sandstone slabs.  When infants and children died their parents or relatives often placed shell necklaces or pendants around their neck.  Adults were also buried wearing jewelry, but not as frequently as infants and children.


The village was bound by a wooden fence (what archaeologits often referred to as a palisade).  Evidence of multiple palisade lines indicates that it was rebuilt and enlarged as the village grew.  Judging by the circumference of the earliest palisade, the village was initially just over 200 feet (around 60 m) in diameter.  Sometime during the life of the village, the initial palisade was torn down and several houses were built where it had been.  A second palisade was built around the new houses.  It measured 240 feet (around 73 m) in diameter.  A third palisade measuring 255 feet (around 78 m) in diameter was built toward the end of the village’s occupation.  If the palisades had to be replaced every 10 to 15 years due to the posts rotting, then the village would have been occuppied for 30 to 45 years.  The palisade may have been built to protect the village from attack or it could have served to distinguish those living within this community from those living elsewhere.

What's Cool?

Over 150 circular stone discoidals were recovered from the Slone site.  Nearly all were made of from sandstone, but a few were made from cannel coal, hematite, and limestone.  They tend to be plain and well-smoothed on both faces.  A few are decorated, primarily with incised lines, and some are polished.  These discoidals may have been used in games that involved rolling them on a field and trying to get them to land within a small three sided wooden box.


Plain sandstone discoidal.

Decorated cannel coal discoidal.





Dunnell, Robert C., Lee H. Hanson, Jr. and Donald L. Hardesty (1971) The Woodside Component of the Slone Site, Pike County, Kentucky. Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Bulletin No. 14  

Fort Ancient Chapter 7--The Archaeology of Kentucky: An update (vol. 2)


Last Updated 4/29/2013