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June 29, 2010

Are there any areas in Kentucky that are sacred ground?

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QUESTION:
Are there any areas in Kentucky that are considered sacred ground?
~Submitted by Brooks D.
ANSWER:

Wickliffe Mounds is a prehistoric, Mississippian culture archaeological site located in Ballard County, Kentucky, just outside the town of Wickliffe. Operated today as a State Historical Park, Wickliffe Mounds are about 30 miles west of Paducah, Kentucky on Highways 51-60-62 West, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river, the Wickliffe Mounds village was occupied from about 1100 AD to 1350 AD.

Wickliffe Mounds Historical Site entrance sign
The Mississippians built a complex settlement with permanent houses and earthen mounds situated around a central plaza. They farmed the river bottoms and participated in a vast trade network. The Mississippians also buried their dead here with dignity and respect.

Archaeology investigations have linked the Wickliffe Mounds site with others along the Ohio River in Illinois and Kentucky as part of the Angel Phase of Mississippian culture. At its peak, it’s estimated Wickliffe Mounds had a population reaching into the hundreds.

The site was dominated by two large platform mounds, with at least eight smaller mounds scattered around a central plaza area.

Possibly related Mississippian Mound Cultures

In the lower Ohio River valley in Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana, the Mississippian-culture towns of Kincaid, Wickliffe, Tolu Site, and Angel Mounds have been more closely grouped together into a “Kincaid Focus” archeological set, due to similarities in pottery assemblages and site plans.

Most striking are the comparisons between the Kincaid and Angel sites, which include analogous site plans, stylistic similarities in artifacts, and geographic proximity. These connections have led some experts to hypothesize that the builders and residents were of the same society.

Rare painted and incised shards have been found at all four sites, ranging from less than one percent near Kincaid to about three or four percent of the assemblage at Wickliffe. Some common pottery styles found in these sites include: Angel Negative Painted, Kincaid Negative Painted, and Matthews Incised.

This pottery is shell tempered and ranges from the smoothed surface and coarser temper of Mississippi Ware to the more polished surface and finer temper of Bell Ware.

In all, about 45 mounds have been identified in the United States as belonging to the Mississippian Mound Culture.

Exavation and Exploitation of the Wickliffe Mounds

Amateur and semi-professional excavations first began in the site around 1913 and continued sporadically for several decades.

In 1932, amateur archaeologist Colonel Fain W. King purchased the site and began excavating the mounds. Later joined by his wife, Blanche Busey King, they continued their excavations and operated the site as a tourist attraction known as the Ancient Buried City.

The Kings’ venture was highly controversial because they used sensational and misleading advertising, altered the site to make it more visually appealing, and made dubious and exaggerated interpretations of the site. These actions put them directly in opposition to professional archaeologists who studied the site and did not want it disturbed.

The Kings deeded the site to go to the Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah upon their death in 1946. The hospital continued to operate the site as a tourism business until 1983.

That year the hospital donated the site to Murray State University, to be used for research and training students. In 1984 the site’s historic importance was recognized and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2004, the site became the 11th State Historical Site of Kentucky and entered the control of the State Parks Service.

The State Parks Service, which operates a museum at the site for interpretation of the ancient community. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is also a Kentucky Archeological Landmark and State Historic Site.After the 1300’s the Mississippians at Wickliffe Mounds abandoned the village.

Today, the Wickliffe Mounds museum exhibits the excavated features of the mounds, outstanding displays of Mississippian pottery, stone tools, bone and shell implements, the architecture of Mississippian mounds and houses, burial practices of the Mississippians and a bird’s eye view of the bluff atop the ceremonial mound.

The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a designated Kentucky Archaeological Landmark and is a common ground for Native American Indian cultures, past and present.

Wickliffe Historic Site Museum

The Wickliffe Historic Site has a museum, which charges for admission. The Welcome Center offers visitors an introduction to the Wickliffe Mounds, provides information on park activities and tourism opportunities, and is the admission desk for the museum.

The museum encompases the four excavated mounds, identified as Mound A, Mound B, Mound C, and Mound D, in four building complexes.

Ceremonial Mound (Mound A) is the largest of the mounds and was the location of ceremonial structures. This would have been the political and religious center of the community. Originally excavated in 1932 and later in 1984-5, it has been determined that there are six phases of development.

The Architecture Building covers a mound that was residential (Mound B). You can see several layers of habitation revealed in this cut-away mound. This mound was built up over 200 years. Inside, visitors can look into the layers of this mound. It shows the evidence which archeologists used to identify this as a residential area, such as the layers of charred materials from cooking fires and the postholes for the poles that held the wattle and daub siding.

The Cemetery Building covers the area used as the community’s burial ground (Mound C). Native American practices prohibit the display of the dead. The original remains were reinterred and artificial skeletons were placed to show the original burials.

The exterior of the excavation has curtains with traditional designs to cover those remains that could not be removed. The burials are from the 1200s. They included many infants, as well as people with identifiable medical problems, including arthritis, tuberculosis (TB) and various injuries.

The Lifeways Building is the excavation of an early village/residential portion of the community (Mound D). The early homes were replaced by an elongated mound. The excavation shows the arrangement of earlier structures, including numerous infant burials.

Hours of Operation for the Whckliffe Mounds Museum

•Open May 16 to September 30, daily 9:00 am to 4:30pm.
•Open March, April, May 1-15 and October, November, Wednesday to Sunday 9:00 am to 4:30pm.
•Closed Thanksgiving Day and Friday after.
•Closed December, January and February.

Admission Charges to view the Wickliffe Mounds

•Adults: $5
•Kids age 6-12: $4
•Kids age 5 and under: $1
•Group rates available by advance appointment.

Other Kentucky Sacred Sites

Negro Hill, Hebbardsville, KY.
Considered sacred ground by the Cherokee Indians. Site of recurring bigfoot activity. The high ridge extends for miles in either direction and overlooks the bottom land along the Green River.

Mantle Rock Marion, Kentucky
Its name came from a natural rock formation in western Kentucky by the Ohio River where three thousand Cherokees sought shelter while the river was frozen and impassable in the winter of 1838-1839. Marion is also close to part of the Trail of Tears route.

Mineral Mound State Park, Eddyville, KY
Mississippian Indian mounds historic site.

Crumps Cave in Warren County, Kentucky
Contains pristine images carved by American Indians over 1,000 years ago.

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