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Jonathan Creek

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Jonathan Creek
Mississippian (1200-1350 A.D.)

May 16, 1941 Marshall County, Kentucky. Jonathan Creek. CCC Boys in Unit B. (courtesy of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology)
Jonathan Creek:  Civilian Conservation Crew,  
Unit B (courtesy of William S. Webb
Museum of Anthropology).


Jonathan Creek is an important fortified Mississippian town-and-mound center on the banks of the Tennessee River, known for its stockades (large wooden fences that encircled the village). Composed of many post-holes from houses and stockades that overlap one another, Jonathan Creek represents the complexity of Mississippian social organization over time as architectural features were maintained, destroyed, and reconstructed. The changing position of stockades and houses details the changing fortunes of the inhabitants of Jonathan Creek as a community.

Research at Jonathan Creek began in 1940.  Work was performed with men from the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was halted in 1942 due to America’s entry into World War two and the workers being drafted. Because of this abrupt interruption of the fieldwork the analysis of the materials excavated also received neglect.  This was partially ameliorated in 1990s when these items were given the attention they deserved producing a better understanding of the site plan with advanced mapping software as well as analyzing  a greater portion of the material collected from the site.

Stockades, Architecture, and Features at the Jonathan Creek Site (From Schroder 2006)

Stockades, Architecture, and Features at the Jonathan Creek Site (From Schroeder 2007).

Findings & conclusions

The nine stockades documented at Jonathan Creek represent a complex sequence of construction, repair, and dismantling of a single community over time. Their shifting placement reflects the community’s growth, or a southward shift in the community’s center. The presence of the stockades clearly shows a great concern on the part of the inhabitants for security. The builders of the last and outer most stockade made a show of power in its impressive height and length.

The ends of the posts of this final stockade had been burned to fire-harden the posts or as a result of using fire to fell the trees. One explanation for doing this to the posts is that this outermost stockade was left to rot in place, as there was no evidence for posts replacement as there were in previous stockades at Jonathan Creek. Firing the ends that were placed in the ground would extend the use life of the posts.

But perhaps the most interesting new information is that a formerly residential area near the center of the site was a place where rituals were conducted. It was a sacred area, with a mortuary mound with a series of charnel structures (a place to process deceased persons before burial) built on top of it. This is shown by superimposed wall trench structures more than two times the size of others that occur at the site. These represent the construction and systematic rebuilding of a ritual structure that was built on a low platform mound.

Lines representing two of the nine stockades (courtesy  William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology).
Two of the nine Jonathan Creek stockades
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology).



 Map of small mound showing nearby walls and architectural features
Map of small mound showing nearby walls and architectural features


What's Cool? Houses
The Jonathan Creek community, which backed up to the Tennessee River, was occupied beginning around A.D. 1200 AD and into the 1300s. It was laid out like other Mississippian town-and-mound centers: structures were arranged around an open plaza flanked by six earthen mounds. The site was enclosed on three sides by a stockade studded with bastions. A bastion is a fortified spur from the stockade that served as a platform from which defenders could repel attacks. Less than one-quarter of the site was excavated.

Nine separate stockade walls were found at Jonathan Creek, only one of them lacked bastions (the inner most stockade). The location of each wall represents the changes in the size and limits of the town over the period of its occupation. These walls would have been made from large logs, about 9 inches in diameter, driven into the ground to various depths (on average 1.5 feet). Some walls showed evidence of post replacement/maintenance, meaning that walls had different rates of wear, either from sieges or rotting.

Because two different kinds of rectangular houses were built there, wall trench houses and later single-set post houses, researchers initially thought two different sets of people occupied Jonathan Creek. But more recent research cannot confirm this. Variation in house style may simply reflect different functions for circular, rectangular wall trench, single-set rectangular, and houses with one or three center posts. These houses may have been inhabited by different social groups. The difference between a single-set post house and a wall trench house lays in the manner of erecting the posts for the walls of the house. Similar to the stockades these houses used logs, although smaller in diameter, to construct their walls. The primary difference being that single-set posts are driven into the ground, while posts in a wall trench house are set in a trench that is then filled with earth.

Overlapping Wall trench houses:  House 82 was constructed after House 83 was demolished; (courtesy William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology)
Overlapping Wall trench houses:
House 82 was constructed after House 83
was demolished; (courtesy William
S. Webb Museum of Anthropology).

Single set post house (courtesy William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology).
Single line of post-holes house (courtesy
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology).

Artist’s Depiction of Mississippian Village at Wickliffe, Ballard County, Kentucky. (Courtesy Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, Kentucky State Parks.)


Educational Resources

Last Updated 5/7/2013