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Mt. Horeb

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Mt. Horeb

Early and Middle Woodland
Adena (500 B.C. - A.D. 250)


The Mt. Horeb Earthwork is an Adena earthen enclosure located just outside Lexington, Kentucky, along Elkhorn Creek.  It was constructed over 2,000 years ago and consists of a circular ditch and embankment.  An an earthen causeway is located on its west side. Archaeologists believe that the Adena people used Mt. Horeb as a location for periodic social gatherings.  Today the Mt. Horeb Earthwork has been reconstructed, and it is a protected recreational area owned by the University of Kentucky named Adena Park.

A crew member measures elevation
at Mt. Horeb. Photograph courtesy of the
William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

Research Focus

Archaeological investigations began at Mt. Horeb in 1939 under the direction of William S. Webb of the University of Kentucky.  Many local men participated in archaeological excavations around the Bluegrass in order to get back to work during the difficult years of the Great Depression.  In order to understand how the earthwork and enclosure were built, the crew dug horizontal and vertical trenches through the ditch and embankment.

Trench excavations at Mt. Horeb. Notice the difference
in elevation as the trench went through
the embankment and the ditch. Photograph courtesy
of the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

Map of the Mt. Horeb Excavations
(Recreated from Webb 1941)

Findings & conclusions

Measuring over 295 feet (90 meters) across, the Mt. Horeb Earthwork consists of an outer earthen embankment, a ditch to its interior, a circular pattern of large posts to the interior of the ditch, and finally, a flat interior. A causeway extends to the west of the earthwork. 

Very few artifacts were recovered from the center of the enclosure.  This suggests that at the conclusion of rituals conducted at this site, those who participated made an effort to clean the area.  

Mt. Horeb appears to represent a place where Adena people gathered to carry out important rituals over several decades.

An artist's reconstruction of the Mt. Horeb earthwork.

What's Cool?

During the excavation of Mt. Horeb, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a structure that was built and used prior to the construction of the ditched embankment (earthwork).  The structure consisted of a circle of posts  grouped into pairs.  The average diameter of the posts was just under a foot.  There is no evidence that the builders wove smaller saplings between the posts to create a solid wall.  Thus, the structure may have looked more like a circular standing screen than a walled structure.

Archaeologists think that the paired-post structures were open-air meeting spaces where Adena groups held important ceremonies.  The enclosure’s posts would have set up a boundary around this ritual space and limited access to only those directly involved in the ceremonies. However, since the earthwork sat on a prominent place on the landscape people excluded from the ceremonies would still know an important riutal was underway. Imagine under the cover of night looking up at the earthwork and seeing the flicker of fire and billows of smoking arising from behind the enclosure.

With the construction of the ditched enclosure, there was no longer a need for the paired-post structure.  The outer walls of the embankment, however, would have served a similar purpose thereby effectively screening outsiders from events taking place within the enclosure.

Map of paired post structure uncovered within the Mt. Horeb earthwork. Image adapted from Webb 1941.

Excavated posts surrounding the interior of the 
Mt. Horeb earthwork.  Courtesy of the William S.
Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.



Related Content


Adena: Woodland Period Moundbuilders of the Bluegrass

Henderson, A. Gwynn and Eric Schlarb (2007) KAS Booklets

If you want to learn more about the Adena people click here to look at the Kentucky Archaeology Video Series.

Intermediate and Middle School social stdudies teachers can look here for useful classroom activities and information regarding Adena peoples.   


Last Updated 12/9/2014