Kincaid Mounds Investigation

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Kincaid Mounds Investigations

Since 2003, SIUC archaeologists Brian Butler (CAI) and Paul Welch (Dept. of Anthropology) have been engaged in a long-term program of research at this poorly known Mississippian mound center. Located in the Black Bottom of the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, this 150-plus acre complex straddles the Massac-Pope County line. The Kincaid site was first investigated by University of Chicago archaeologists under the direction of Faye-Cooper Cole from 1934 to 1944, resulting in the well-known 1951 volume Kincaid, a Prehistoric Illinois Metropolis.

The initial goals were to assess the organization and complexity of the site and chronicle its emergence and demise as a major mound center, none of which were adequately documented by the previous work. The plan was to employ large-scale remote sensing and pursue specific questions that could be addressed by small, targeted excavations. The primary vehicle of the fieldwork was to be the annual archaeological field school, jointly supported by the Department and the Center.

A key aspect of the work has been a large-scale geophysical survey of the Massac County portions of the site, completed in early 2009. The survey has primarily used magnetometry. This work has been accomplished principally by R. Berle Clay (Cultural Resource Analysts, Lexington, Ky), Michael L. Hargrave (US Army COE), and Staffan Peterson (Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University, now Indiana Department of Natural Resources). Additional survey contributions have been made by John E. and John A. Schwegman of Metropolis, Illinois.

The results of the geophysical survey, along with the results of excavations targeted on the basis of the survey results, have been eye-opening, revealing that the site is much larger and more complex than originally thought. The new work has brought the realization that there are many more mounds at the site than previously believed (most of them small) and that habitation areas are much more extensive than surface artifact distributions had suggested. Below is a brief listing of the fieldwork to date:

2003 Small-scale testing was done at the southeast corner of the main plaza to determine feasibility of locating an observation platform and parking area there. Work confirmed the presence of the remnants of a small mound (Mxo2) and encountered a heavily used Baumer (Early/Middle Woodland) occupation surface (Butler and Welch 2006).

2005 Excavations in the southwestern corner of state property confirmed the presence of a low platform mound (called the West Mound) and adjacent habitation areas, well outside the previously suspected western boundary of the site. The habitation surface, which contains numerous structures, was hidden under 40 cm of alluvium.

2006 Known and suspected palisade lines on both the northern and western edges of the site were explored. Work confirmed the existence of a north-south palisade on the west side, previously indicated in aerial photographs and geophysical survey. A separate excavation was done by CAI in a 11 x 11 m block for the observation platform adjacent to the lakefront road west of the 2003 work. Some remnant Mississippian features were found, but mostly large refuse-filled Baumer pits (Early and Middle Woodland) were excavated.

2007 Excavations took place on the top of the large mound, Mxo8, confirming the existence of a 22 m diameter circular wall trench structure at or just below the present surface. The structure had been identified in geophysical survey of the mound top by John E. Schwegman. A large central posthole was also discovered. Evidence suggests the structure had several building phases and was probably roofed.

2008 Work took place in the northwestern part of the state land confirming the existence of a previously unsuspected east-west palisade line, identified in a 2008 geophysical survey. A possible mound remnant was tested but proved not to be a mound. A house complex in the same area was also investigated. Confirmation of this “new” palisade line was an important development, extending the western edge of the site much farther to the west and adding at least 13 ha to the defined site area. This palisade would have enclosed the West Mound complex within the fortified area.

2009 Two excavation areas were opened as part of the dissertation research of Tamira Brennan. These targeted magnetic anomalies in the geophysical survey thought to be structures: one along the eastern edge of the plaza and a second adjacent to the west side of the Mound 8 in an area now identified as Mxv1E. The plaza units uncovered a burned house with whole vessels and other usable artificats on the floor, indicating that the fire was not intentional. Mxv1E proved to be a palimpsest of features, some of which were not visible in the geophysical survey.

2010 Three excavation blocks were opened just inside of the site's northern paliside line as a continuing aspect of Brennan's dissertation research, revealing several structures, a handful of other features, and the first late Lewis phase (Late Woodland) pit documented in SIUC investigations. Additional work was completed on Douglas Mound to map the footings of a historic barn that was built and torn down in the 20th century.

2011 Two excavations were conducted simultaneously. The first tested unusual magnetic signatures in Kincaid's western field, in an area designated Mxv1F. These were revealed to be an extensive stratified Archaic deposit. Nine projectile points in good stratigraphic order indicate a span from the late Middle Archaic to the Early Woodland. The second explored a portion of the lower southern flank of Mxo8 near the east edge, using a series of soil probes followed by four 2 x 2 meter units. South of Mxo8 a pre-mound sand-over-clay prepared surface or structure floor was uncovered with a complex of associated postholes, likely tied to Early Kincaid occupation. Slopewash and a small part of the outer edge of the Mxo8 mound thickly covered the pre-mound surface, and beneath the surface Lewis-era Late Woodland ceramics appeared.

Brennan dissertation

Porsell dissertation