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Cox Site

Site Name:
Site No.:
Research focus:

Cox Site
Fort Ancient
Rachel Looff

Cox Site Feature 1 Excavation

Cox Site Excavation


Located in the Inner Bluegrass in the center of a large ridge, the Cox site was determined to be an open habitation Fort Ancient site without mounds.

The site as a whole was found to contain many artifacts, diagnostic and otherwise. Archaeologists loosely defined the site as a 65 by 60 m plot of land; the true site boundaries may need to be extended, as it may continue in the field to the north.

In the area excavated, archaeologists documented two burials: one, located in the southwest corner, had been discovered by the owners; the other was found in approximately the middle of the site. One burial was flexed, and the other fully extended.

Besides the burials, seven test units documented three features. Feature 1 was the widest feature, and Feature 3 was the deepest. Both have been interpreted as consisting of a number of overlapping pits.

Based on a preliminary analysis of shell-tempered ceramics and triangular points, and radiocarbon dates, the site was determined to date to the Middle Fort Ancient period (A.D. 1200-1400).  In terms of site layout, no discernable pattern, shape, or village structure has been documented. Further excavation, if ever possible, would likely yield more artifacts and a greater understanding of the site’s original layout.

Fort Ancient rim with handle

Jessamine Plain rim with
thick strap handle.


Fort Ancient Triangular projectile point
Fort Ancient Triangular projectile point.

Research Focus

Current research at the Cox site has focused on assessing both the animal subsistence patterns and patterns of post-consumption animal bone use by the Native Americans who lived at the Cox site:

  • Archaeologists wanted to know if the species of animals represented in the food refuse found at the Cox site were consistent with faunal distributions at other Fort Ancient sites, which show that Fort Ancient people utilized deer, bear, elk, and turkey as their four main food sources. By comparing the species recovered at the Cox site to nearby sites, it would be possible to determine if the inhabitants of the Cox site followed this same consumption pattern.
  • Research emphasis also was placed upon the modified bone recovered from the site. Archaeologists analyzed the material to determine both the species from which the modified bone originated and the purpose the modification served.
  • It was important to determine if the modifications on the Cox site bone served mainly a functional purpose, or if the modifications  occurred on bone commonly found at the site, such as deer.

Of the Fort Ancient sites around Cox, the Muir site in Jessamine County was selected for comparison because it provides a large and comprehensive presentation of Fort Ancient animal use in the Inner Bluegrass:

Geographically, Muir and Cox are very similar. They are approximately nine miles apart from each other and are roughly equidistant from the Kentucky River.

Chronologically, however, the sites differ. The Muir site dates to the Early Fort Ancient period (A.D. 1000-1200), while the Cox site is believed to be Middle Fort Ancient (A.D. 1200-1400).

  • The data analyzed from the Cox site was limited to those faunal remains recovered from Feature 3.
  • In order to utilize comparable results from the Muir site, three features from Muir—18, 20, and 37—were selected for comparison.  All three features were selected due to their large collections of faunal remains and their physical characteristics that could potentially help to characterize the function of Feature 3 at the Cox site.

Archaeologists excavating Feature 3

Archaeologists excavating Feature 3.

General location of Cox and Muir sites.

Muir elbow shaped handle

Early Fort Ancient elbow-Shaped
handle from the early Fort Ancient
Muir site.

Finds and Conclusions

Through a comparison of the faunal remains collected from Feature 3 of the Cox site and the faunal distributions of both the Muir site as a whole and three selected Muir features, the Cox site was determined to exhibit many similarities to other Fort Ancient sites:

  • Species proportions for the Cox site are relatively consistent with those for Muir.
  • Cox also contained evidence of the four main Fort Ancient food sources—deer, bear, elk, and turkey—indicating that its inhabitants followed subsistence patterns closely related to other Fort Ancient Native Americans in the region. Although the Cox site inhabitants lived after their Muir counterparts, they did not substantially alter their diets.
  • There was a significant presence of modified bone that, like the material from the Muir site, was largely functional in nature and was crafted from materials readily at hand.
  • Due to both the abbreviated excavation of Feature 3 and the lack of conclusive variation in size, shape, and faunal distribution between the Cox and Muir features, it is difficult to conclude whether Feature 3 is a pit or a structural basin.
  • Given the geographic and faunal remain similarities between the Cox and Muir sites, it appears that although the chronological difference between the sites is significant, it is not possible to attribute the slight differences in faunal distribution and modification to time. Due to the Cox site’s relatively small faunal collection, such differences were attributed to the small sample size.

Deer Mandible

Deer mandible


Bear canine

Bear Canine.

Antler Projectile Points

Antler tip projectile points.

What's Cool?

As a member of the Liberal Arts Academy at High School, I was required to design a 200 hour mentoring project to be completed by the end of my senior year. The only stipulation for choosing my project was that I pick something of potential academic/career interest and I chose to work with archaeology. For some time, I had been interested archaeology and wanted to explore the possibility of majoring in the field in college. I was eager to solidify the vague knowledge I possessed and to learn the theories and techniques employed by archaeologists that allow them to pull amazing insights about past civilizations from a seemingly nondescript field or trench.

And my time at the Kentucky Archaeological Society did just that. I was given the task of completing an analysis of the Cox site. With generous help from many archaeologists, I was able to have the complete archaeological experience: I washed and sorted bags upon bags of artifacts, I visited active sites to gain field experience, I worked with a flotation machine, I analyzed botanical and faunal remains, I completed a site form, and I met a number of amazing archaeologists who were all willing to talk to me about their particular areas of expertise and to provide valuable help in the completion of my project.

When I began coming to the lab last summer, I had only a vague idea as to what I would study in college. I knew that I would pursue the sciences, but a specific path eluded me. Now, however, I am relatively set on a major in biochemistry, and I can attribute some part of this decision to my mentoring project. I absolutely loved working at the lab, uncovering interesting artifacts and hearing my mentor and other archaeologists use their seemingly endless stores of knowledge to describe to me what the artifact was and what it might indicate in the context of our site. I loved being in a research setting, with so many projects going on and so many people working toward finding answers. But ultimately I found myself drawn to the more biological aspects of archaeology—the analysis of animal bones and the microscopic botanical remains. And although I will likely not end up declaring a major in archaeology when I go to college next year, I am very glad to have worked on this mentoring project and am extraordinarily grateful to the archaeologists at KAS who were instrumental in guiding me through my work.

Turkey bone awl Turkey bone awl.




Related Content


Comparison of Cox and Muir site faunal remains table.


Educational Resources

The Prehistoric Farmers of Boone County, Kentucky KAS education booklet

Sun Watch Indian Village/Archaeological Park



Last Updated 5/7/2013