Wickliffe Mounds: A Pre-Columbian Native American Site
The Wickliffe Mounds make up a Native American complex that was discovered in Ballard County, Kentucky, near the town of Wickliffe. The prehistoric Mississippian site is situated on a bluff near the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the original Chickasaw homelands and includes a residential mound, a ceremonial mound, a cemetery building and early villages. The Wickliffe Mounds archeological site prominently features two central platform mounds, a central plaza and eight smaller mounds surrounding the area.
Ancient Native Americans inhabited the Wickliffe Mounds from approximately 1100 CE to 1350 CE. Agriculture was significant to Mississippian people, and corn was a staple crop that was stored and used to feed the dense population that occupied the site. The Mississippian civilization at Wickliffe had a hierarchical leadership system ruled by a hereditary chief and was characterized by the advanced stratification of its social classes. The decline of this complex was gradual, as the ancient people began gradually deserting Wickliffe around 1300 CE to relocate to another site.
The Wickliffe Mounds have been excavated and studied by archeologists and scholars for decades. In 1932, the site opened to the public, offering views of the mounds and displays of the Mississippian stone tools, cultural artifacts and pottery recovered from the location.
Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the twentieth century, some of the excavations were improperly handled and poorly managed. However, in 1983, Wickliffe Mounds was donated to Murray State University in recognition of the scientific importance and educational potential of the mounds. In 1984, the university established the Wickliffe Mounds Research Center with the goal to accurately understand, interpret and preserve the site with archaeologists and museum personnel in charge. The exhibits were also updated to provide accurate information about the Mississippian people who once lived here.
That same year, Murray State University began to conduct small-scale excavations and archaeological laboratory research at Wickliffe Mounds to promote a better understanding of the site. The excavations helped verify the accuracy of the 1930s excavations and develop an overview of activities on the site.
The archaeological research that Murray State University conducted has produced significantly important information about the Wickliffe Mounds site. Radiocarbon dates, as well as other techniques, have established a chronology for the Wickliffe Mounds archaeological site (15BA4). Their findings indicate that the Early Wickliffe period lasted from about 1100 CE-1175 CE, the Middle Wickliffe period from about 1175 CE-1250 CE, and the Late Wickliffe period from about 1250 CE-1350 CE.
Artist's Depiction of Mississippian Village at Wickliffe, Ballard County, Kentucky. Credit: Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site,
The village located at Wickliffe Mounds was settled by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture and began as a small town surrounding a central plaza around 1100 CE. They built the first stage of what became Mound B (the Architecture building), where the chief and his or her family probably lived, by about 1175 CE.
Between 1175 CE and 1250 CE, the inhabitants built Mounds A (the Ceremonial Mound) and C (Burial Mound), added to Mound B, and may have begun some of the other mounds such as Mound D (the Lifeways building). The village began to expand during this time—partly as families moved back to give room for the mounds, and perhaps also due to a larger population. Evidence suggests that trade increased during this period, especially between Wickliffe and the region around St. Louis, Missouri, where Cahokia, the largest Mississippian site, is located.
Wickliffe Mounds began to undergo interesting changes between 1250 CE and 1350 CE. Like many other Mississippian mound sites at this time, less effort was devoted to building mounds, although during this period, the inhabitants completed Mounds A, B, and D, and built Mound F (west of the Ceremonial Mound). The village at Wickliffe Mounds continued to expand until it covered the entire bluff. However, the people who built and lived at this site apparently deserted it around 1350 CE. The reasons for their departure are still not clear.
In 2004, Murray State University transferred the Wickliffe Mounds archaeological site and its collections to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Today, Wickliffe Mounds is managed by the Kentucky State Parks Service and noted as a Kentucky archeological landmark. The mound site is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places and features special exhibits, interactive displays and educational programs for the public.
Wickliffe Mounds archaeologists continue to study the artifacts that were excavated during the 1930s, 1980s, 1990s and after. Archaeology is a non-renewable resource. Until the most recent excavations are thoroughly studied, and new questions or techniques can be introduced, Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site will continue to preserve the site and interpret the latest findings, while keeping further disturbance to a minimum.
For more information about Wickliffe Mounds and the ancient Native American cultures of the southeast United States, visit the Chickasaw.tv History & Culture Channel .
By Chickasaw TV