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Site Name:
Site No.:
Research focus:
Middle Woodland (200 B.C.-500 A.D.)

Overview of Amburgey site
Overview of Amburgey site (Richmond 2001:7).


The Amburgey site is located on a high ridge in Montgomery County. The site’s location in an historic cemetery may have aided its preservation, as the site was not repeatedly plowed.

At Amburgey archaeologists documented a Middle Woodland site, where groups performed rituals that may have included feasts.  Artifacts recovered from the site suggestive of such activities include copper ear spools and a copper celt, mica, and a foreign pot (Connestee Series Tetrapod Vessel).  The wide variety of plant remains found at the site are suggestive of feasting.

Amburgey was originally documented in 1996 as part of a survey conducted in advance of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's realignment of Highway 11. Since the site could not be avoided it was excavated in 2001. This work documented the presence of four Middle Woodland pits and 13 Middle Woodland postholes. It also led to the recovery of “foreign” artifacts, such as copper ear spools, a copper celt, mica, and a tetrapodal ceramic vessel.

Drawings and illustrations of copper earspools by Charles Willoughby
Drawings and illustrations of copper earspools by Charles C. Willoughby.

What's Cool? Circular Structure and Rituals
Circular Structure

Eleven postholes form an oval pattern measuring 57 by 39 ft with the northern portion of the oval being obscured by the historic graves. The posts may represent a temporary structure or screen. The structure had at least one central post, which was slightly larger and deeper than the surrounding posts. Feature 1 could be another interior post since it possesses similar attributes to the central post.


Feature 2 was a small pit that contained a Connestee Series Tetrapod Vessel and two copper ear spools. The vessel was intact when placed in the pit with the ear spools beneath its base. A piece of cordage was extracted from the fragmented ear spool. No botanical remains were found in the vessel but beneath it were found carbonized seeds of squash, goosefoot, bedstraw, purslane, and sticky catchfly. Both bedstraw and catchfly ethnographically had medicinal uses. They also were used as incense and fragrance.

Feature 5 was a large pit found 12 feet northeast of the oval posthole pattern. This oval shaped pit measured 6 by 3 feet, had tapered walls, and a flat bottom. The soil surrounding this feature had been burn. This pit held thermally altered sandstone and quart pebbles, as well as a copper celt, a ground stone celt, a hafted biface (similar to the Synders type), and chipped stone flakes. Most of the lithics were also thermally altered.

Feature 5 also yielded 600 calcined bone fragments, representing white-tailed deer, other mammals, and birds. A diverse set of plant remains also were  found in this pit. They include walnut and hickory nutshell, and goosefoot, pokeweed, chokeberry, eastern redbud, and St.-John’s-wort seeds. Other than food these items could be used for medicinal treatments, incense, fiber, and basketry. Feature 5 is interpreted as a thermal feature, most likely related to animal processing or food preparation. Due to its proximity to Feature 2 the activities represented here could be connected to the rituals that led to the deposition of the tetrapodal vessel.

Key Artifacts

The rounded pot from Feature 2 was made with mica-flecked clay tempered with a moderate amount of sand and rock. The outer surface was brushed except for the neck and the rim, which were plain and well-smoothed. The brushstrokes on the body of the vessel were diagonally oriented creating a herringbone pattern around the vessel. The vessel sits on four coned shaped feet. The vessel’s temper, surface treatment, and shape suggest that it was manufactured in the Appalachian summit region of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. This vessel thus probably represents a pot that was obtained through exchange relationships between those living in Montgomery County and those in eastern Tennessee.

Two copper ear spools were found beneath the base of the vessel in Feature 2. One ear spool was nearly complete, only the outer edges of the obverse (larger of the two cymbals on the visible side of the spool when worn in the ear) and reverse discs are slightly fragmented. This ear spool is a composite artifact, formed from at least three plates and one stem. The stem was wrapped in fiber and no clay was found between the plates. The second ear spool is similar in shape to the first ear spool. The fiber cordage wrapped around the stem of the broken ear spool was 24 inches long and .08 inches thick. It was made of bast fibers, which are pliable, elongated strands from the inner bark of plants.

The copper celt from Feature 5 is almost a complete specimen except for a small chunk missing on one end. Several bits of mica were lodged on the surfaces of each face. The celt is 2.9 inches long and 1.7 inches wide, tapering toward the proximal end. The outer end is flared, slightly rounded, and beveled, giving it the appearance of an adze instead of a celt. The two side edges are flat instead of blade-like. The celt was manufactured by folding raw copper sheets that left a seam lengthwise on one face of the tool.

Copper and mica are not found in central or even eastern Kentucky, and when present at Kentucky sites represent objects obtained through exchange with groups living to the southeast in the Appalachian Mountains.

Planview of the Middle Woodland component at the Amburgey site showing features, postholes, and historic grave shafts.
Planview of the Middle Woodland component
at the Amburgey site showing features, postholes,
and historic graves (Richmond 2002:109).

Photograph and profile of partial Tetrapod Vessel
Photograph and profile of Tetrapod Vessel
(Richmond 2002:41).


Photograph of Earspool A and cordage from
Earspool B showing stem of earspool
(Richmond 2001:78).


Copper adze recovered from Feature 5, showing both faces
Copper adze showing both faces (Bybee and Richmond 2003:22).

Findings & Conclusions
One interpretation of the finds at this site is that feasting in connection with ritual offerings took place at Amburgey. The presence of burned edible floral and faunal species represents the feasting aspect of the site. Sticky catchfly and bedstraw, with known medicinal, incense, and fragrance uses, probably played a role in the ritual activity at Amburgey. That the chipped-stone tools and flakes were burned, but the the copper artifacts and tetrapodal vessel were not, suggests that the latter were deposited after the burning episode. The structure represented by the oval posthole alignment probably represents a partition that separated areas of sacred space.


Reports and Papers

Richmond, Michael D., 2002, A National Register Evaluation of Sites 15Mm137, 15Mm139, and 15Mm140 and Deep Testing Along Sycamore Creek in Montgomery County, Kentucky.  Cultural Resource Analysts, Lexington.

Bybee, Alexandra D. and Michael D. Richmond, 2003, Data Recovery at at Nineteenth Century Cemetery (15Mm137) in Montgomery County, Kentucky (Item No. 7-320.00). Cultural Resource Analysts, Lexington.

Richmond, Michael D. and Jonathan P. Kerr, 2005, Middle Woodland Ritualism in the Central Bluegrass. In Woodland Period Systematics in the Middle Ohio Valley, pp. 76-93.  University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.


Last Updated 5/7/2013