Barren River State Resort Park
13th Century Native American Community
During the summer of 1996, KAS archaeologists conducted joint excavations with the Louisville District Corps of Engineers in Barren River State Resort Park. The focus of this work was a small Mississippian site inhabited sometime between A.D. 1260-1300.
By the Mississippian period, people no longer lived as hunters and gatherers. They had developed agriculture and lived in communities of different sizes that were linked together politically, economically and socially. Platform mounds (large flat-topped pyramids of earth), such as the one documented at the nearby Jewell site, served as foundations for ceremonial structures or the houses of chiefs. Relatives of the chief would have lived near the mound. Other families would have lived at nearby settlements, such as the one investigated by KAS archaeologists.
As many as 300 people may have lived at Jewell and surrounding communities. The chief and his relatives resolved disputes, coordinated important ceremonies, and maintained political relationships with other Mississippian groups. Each household provided a portion of its corn crop to the chief to support these activities.
During the course of their work, KAS archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least four houses, built in basins that measured about 15 feet on a side. The exterior walls of the houses were set in shallow trenches and covered in clay. The roofs were covered with thatch. Located near each house were pits where the residents threw out their trash.
By excavating their trash pits and house floors, KAS archaeologists have learned much about the lifeways of the people who lived along Barren River about 700 years ago. The large number of bear and elk bones shows they had a more varied animal diet than other Mississippian peoples, who relied heavily on deer. Small triangular projectile points found at the site indicate that they used the bow and arrow to hunt these animals. An abundance of corn kernels and cobs found in the trash pits shows how important this crop was in their diet.
Pottery found at the site reflects the day-to-day use of vessels for cooking, serving and storing food. All of these artifacts illustrate the "everyday" activities of regular people.