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Wright Mounds

Site No.:


Research focus:



Middle Woodland
(200 B.C.- A.D 400)

WPA Archaeologists pose for a picture on the large mound at Wright.
Photograph courtesty of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

The Wright Mounds are part of the Wright-Greene Mounds group which contains three and possibly four mounds.  This site is located on a ridge three miles from Mt. Sterling in Montgomery County. In 1937 the Works Projects Administration (WPA) excavated two of these mounds and discovered important  information about Adena mortuary practices and ceramic types used to date and identify the Adena culture. Similar to the Mound 15Be3 of Robbins Mound Complex, the larger mound (15Mm6) at Wright contains a large number of burials that reflect use of the mound for several generations.  In comparison, the smaller mound (15Mm7) was utilized less intensively and for a shorter period of time.  The Wright Mounds size and location on a broad ridgetop would have made it an important place on the Adena ritual landscape.

Research Focus

Mound 15Mm6 with some trees removed before excavation began. Photograph courtesy of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

WPA workers seek refuge from the the sun under a canopy. Notice the terracing due to the height of the mound.  Photograph courtesy of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

In 1937 the Wright Mounds were excavated by the WPA in conjunction with the University of Kentucky under the supervision of John L. Cotter and Williams S. Webb. The mounds were covered with large trees that had to be cleared before excavation could begin. Like other burial mounds in the area, the steep slopes of the large mound (15Mm6) deterred farmers from using the mound for agriculture so the site was not greatly impacted by historic farming activities. Archaeologists staked 5 foot by 5 foot squares and proceeded to excavate the mound; however, the profiles became so deep the crew had to start terracing the mound so it did collapse on them. Excavations yielded numerous burials and grave goods, and stratigraphic analysis suggests the large mound was constructed in four phases.

Findings & conclusions



The larger of the two mounds at Wright stood over 9 meters high (roughly 30 feet) and was roughly 55 meters across (180 feet). Built over several  paired-post structures, this mound was constructed in four phases—each separated by a layer of fresh topsoil—and functioned as a mortuary complex that grew in size over time. Additionally, the significant amounts of broken ceramic vessels between each construction phase has led archaeologists to believe groups of people revisited this mound between mound stages and engaged in ritual feasting. The first construction phase of the mound was associated with the log-tomb burial of a single individual, while each new construction phase coincided with additional burials. Log-tomb burials were a hallmark of the Adena culture; a rectangular tomb was cut into the ground, lined with logs, and then covered with massive amounts of dirt and/or clay. Grave goods also accompanied the interred.  Among the grave goods found by archaeologists at Mound 15Mm6 were copper bracelets, shell beads, pipes, mica crescents, and textile fragments. In total, 21 burials were excavated, 14 of which were log-tomb burials. Nearly two-third of all burials contained personal objects, such as copper bracelets and shell bead necklaces.


An artist's reconstruction of an Adena log-lined tomb. Artist Reconstruction by Jim Railey. 


This is what archaeologists find in the field; only imprints of the logs remain. Photograph courtesy of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.


The smaller Wright Mound (15Mm7), which stood at roughly 16 meters tall and was only about 18 meters across, was also built over a circular paired-post structure; however, construction was completed in only one phase. This type of large and small paired-mound construction is similar to the Robbins Mound Complex. Unlike the larger mound, only two burials were recovered from this area. Neither burial was like the log-tomb constructions in the larger mound. Rather, both burials—one cremated and one extended—were placed in simple oval pits. The cremation burial was associated with three unengraved sandstone tablets, two bone artifacts used to work stone, and a bone comb. The single-phase construction coupled with the relatively few number of burials suggests this mound was utilized for a shorter period of time compared to the larger mound.

A typical Adena circular paired-post structure.  Photograph courtesy of William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology.

What's Cool?

Of note, found within the construction fill of the first phase of the larger burial mound was a fragmentary engraved stone tablet that included a bird-like motif. Many of these engraved tablets are found in present-day southern Ohio and occasionally in Kentucky. Based on traces of red ochre found on a tablet found in Kentucky, it has been argued these tablets were used as ink templates for bodily decoration such as tattooing and/or for stamping images onto clothing.

A fragment of an engraved stone tablet from 15Mm6.


A reconstructed engraved stone tablet with four avian motifs.



Related Content


William S. Webb, Haag, William G., and H. T. E. Hertzberg
     1940 The Wright Mounds, Sites 6 and 7, Montgomery County, Kentucky. Reports in Anthropology , Vol. V(1). Publication of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Richard Jefferies (1987) The Greene Mound Archaeological Project: Investigations of Off-Mound Activity at a Kentucky Adena Site. In Current Archaeological Research in Kentucky, Volume One, edited by David Pollack, pp.13-32. Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort


Adena: Woodland Period Moundbuilders of the Bluegrass. KAS education booklet.

Episode 2 - "THe Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky" KAS video series


Last Updated 5/7/2013