INDIAN CLIFF DWELLING

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 10: BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Indian Cliff Dwelling, Discovered 1926
II_3_general_views_133b_mod

Indian Cliff Dwelling. General view with split-rail fence [II_3_general views_133b]

The Indian Cliff Dwelling (rockshelter) is an ancient Native American site discovered in 1926 by a student while she was exploring a cliff over-hang near the entrance to Pine Mountain Settlement School. The site was used as an early dwelling but archaeological evidence indicates that the site was also repeatedly used as a burial site. The more recent of the burials contained numerous skeletons, suggesting that an epidemic disease caused a rapid and large death event. A comprehensive excavation of the site was conducted by the state university (University of Kentucky) shortly after its discovery and it is this archaeological study that provides the most authoritative information on the cliff site.

When the site was discovered in 1926 by children who were playing under the cliff, it was not the innocent discovery of uninformed children. One of the group had brought a mattock to the cliff declaring, “I’ve brung a mattock; I aim to dig me up an Indian!” She had obviously been familiar with other cliff burials and had participated in the digging for Indian artifacts. She quickly unearthed a skull and bones and with the help of her classmates, several more skulls, and bones followed.

Unearthing Indian remains was a common occurrence for many years in eastern Kentucky, which once supported a large Archaic Native American population. Many of the sites possibly date back to early Archaic time. A large number of cliff “overhangs” may be found throughout the area, but most have been ravaged and many have recently been buried by surface mining operations. Cliff overhangs were also temporary homes for explorers, for settlers and hunters, and later for livestock shelters. Initials and sometimes dates carved into the stone suggests these natural shelters served many purposes and occupants over the course of many years.

Native American inhabitants did not often stay in one location for long periods of time in the early Archaic period, but they may have been continual seasonal occupants at the Pine Mountain site. The Late Archaic period apparently had more nucleated (family) groups and many of these were continual occupants of selected sites that were particularly hospitable, as was the large south-facing cliff near the clear stream of Isaac’s Run. The bottom-land near the cliff could easily support crops of corn and squash and the mountains had game to provide for a very abundant food store. When the nearby fields were plowed following the development of the School, they quickly yielded considerable flint and arrowheads. Occasional axes, shells, and gorgets were also found suggesting the site had both a long history, perhaps had links with more dense populations.

In November of 1926 there were no laws to protect these early Native American sites, only the good conscience and historical sense of the staff at the School who quickly put a stop to the plunder by the students.  Staff members protected the graves and the archaeological history of the site and expert help was summoned to the School from the University of Kentucky. Dr. William D. Funkhouser, a zoologist, and Dr. Arthur McQuiston Miller, a geologist, and Mr. Victor K. Dodge, all members of a group of scholars interested in early Native American rockshelters, arrived just after the discovery and took charge of a controlled excavation of the site. While there was “expert help,” on site, the group had not yet been recognized as archaeologists or anthropologists. Under the guidance of physicist William S. Webb, Funkhouser and his colleagues shaped the first department of anthropology and archaeology at the state school, gaining departmental status in 1927, just after the excavation. The University of Kentucky department was the second department of anthropology to be created in the Midwest. (Griffin. 1975:5 as cited in Lewis 1996:10). Funkhouser described his work at Pine Mountain in a short summary found in the important work, Ancient Life in Kentucky: A Brief Presentation of the Paleontological Succession in Kentucky Coupled with a Systematic Outline of the Archaeology of the Commonwealth, co-edited with William S. Webb in 1928 and considered the seminal work on Kentucky archaeology. He describes the Harlan County site as

Rockhouse at Pine Mountain Settlement School. An overhanging rock shelter not more than twenty-five feet deep. On Greasy Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River where it heads up against Pine Mountain. Region is rich in flint artifacts. Slope to creek apparently a workshop for flint-makers. Four complete skeletons, one with a greatly deformed skull. Many artifacts and a few animal bones with the skeletons. Examined by A.M. Miller, Victor Dodge and W.D. Funkhouser. 

The excavation of the rockshelter at Pine Mountain was at the very beginning of the extensive scientific work conducted by the University of Kentucky and by universities in surrounding states and it was many years before the science got a conscience and before the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was instituted by the Federal government.

Today, the practice of “digging up Indians” is illegal. It violates The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Pub. L. 101-601, 25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq., 104 Stat. 3048, a United States federal law enacted on 16 November 1990. Today, current law is very specific regarding the repatriation of remains and artifacts:

On October 29, 2013, the new NAGPRA regulation section 10.7, “Disposition of Unclaimed Human Remains and other Cultural Items Discovered on Federal Lands After November 16, 1990,” was published as a proposed rule. Read the text of the rule here.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was enacted on November 16, 1990, to address the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. The Act assigned implementation responsibilities to the Secretary of the Interior. Staff support is provided by the National NAGPRA Program, including:

  • Publishing notices for museums and Federal agencies in the Federal Register,
  • Creating and maintaining databases, including the Culturally Unidentifiable Human Remains Inventories (CUI) Database,
  • Making grants to assist museums, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations in fulfilling NAGPRA,
  • Assessing civil penalties on museums that fail to comply with provisions of the Act,
  • Providing staff support to the NAGPRA Review Committee and for the Annual Report to Congress,
  • Providing technical assistance to Federal agencies where there are excavations and discoveries of cultural items on Federal and Indian lands,
  • Promulgating implementing regulations, and
  • Providing technical assistance through training, website information, reports prepared for the Review Committee, supporting law enforcement investigations and direct personal service.

According to the definition of NAGPRA on Wikipedia :

NAGPRA … establishes procedures for the inadvertent discovery or planned excavation of Native American cultural items on federal or tribal lands. While these provisions do not apply to discoveries or excavations on private or state lands, the collection provisions of the Act may apply to Native American cultural items if they come under the control of an institution that receives federal funding. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_Graves_Protection_and_Repatriation_Act, accessed January 11, 2014.]

The current provisions are also not bound by the date of the legislation and include removals that occurred prior to the enactment of the 1990 NAGPRA laws.

A description of the excavation is found in the Pine Mountain Notes of November 1926:

The mattock and the hoe then gave place to the kitchen fork, the toothbrush, and the sifter in the hands of a gentleman with infinite patience …” The work of the on-site team from the university was followed by analyses by zoologists and geologists. The latter helped to locate fire-pits, middens, and other typical site markers that provided clues to living patterns, diet, and family or tribe size and age of the cliff dwellers.

The result of the university’s careful excavation yielded, in total, nine skeletons (four intact), all buried in a “sitting posture, some with the bones of the turkey wings that had been placed beside them for their last journey …” [PMSS Notes, Nov. 1926] One of the skeletons was wired together and removed to the University of Kentucky for further study. Other bones were added to the biology collections of the School and the remaining were re-buried “…where they had lain so many hundred years.”

Strangely or not, the re-burial following the excavation was accompanied by the singing of an old-time mountain funeral song:

Been a long time travelin’ here below, 
Been a long time travelin’ away from my home, 
Been a long time travelin’ here below, 
To lay this body down.

The choice of this song for the re-burial ceremony may seem peculiar to the present day, but at the time it signaled the deep respect most mountain folk have for the burial process, or “funeralizing,” as they call it. This traditional mountain practice helped to assuage the distress shown by some students and community at the disturbance of the graves and the removal of the human remains for study. For many in the valley, these were their ancestors. The 1926 Notes account describes the community response to the discovery:

It is to be said that many of our pupils and neighbors got no thrill out of this discovery, but wanted the dead left in peace, and were truly horrified at their first acquaintance with the Howard Carters of this world.* [*A reference to the well-publicized discovery by the English archaeologist, Howard Carter, and Lord Carnarvon, of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb in Egypt in November of 1922, not many years before the Pine Mountain discoveries at the Indian Cliff dwelling. ]

 The cliff skeletons and artifacts are further described in the 1926 Notes:

Two of the skulls were of a very early type. There was one of an old man who had trouble with his teeth. A tiny baby’s skull, whose milk teeth had never cut through the jaw, showed that the cliff was at times more than a hunter’s or warrior’s lodge. There were at least two layers of graves, so it seems that for several hundred years, perhaps only at intervals, the Indians lived there.

Most likely the Indians died from European diseases that decimated many tribes after the arrival of Europeans. It was evident from the archaeological exploration that the Native American families living in the valley experienced a catastrophic event that killed many of them. The pattern was consistent throughout the Americas when Europeans arrived. Burial beneath the cliff, which was once served as an active settlement, was not unusual. It was also not unusual to find later occupants living on top of grave sites, complicating the archaeological history of these mountain cliff dwellings.

The Native American families living on the banks of Isaac’s Creek were probably farming communities in their later phase. This later period is called the Pisgah phase and was common in Harlan, Letcher, and Perry counties (Niquette and Henderson 1984:54). The Pisgah phase spans most of the Kentucky Mississippian period in the southern Appalachians (Lewis 1996:151). As Barry Lewis also notes in his book, Kentucky Archaeology, the phase was commonly found but “only a few Kentucky components have been identified [for this period].” The fertile bottom-land along the north flank of the Pine Mountain was a protected and pleasant location and the Indians left traces in flint and stone of their numbers and their hunting and agricultural activity. The flint and stone traces were greater in this Pine Mountain location than in some other areas due to the possible importance of the site as a flint manufacturing site.

Though small and narrow, the bottom-land along Greasy Creek and Isaac’s Run could have supported grain crops such as maize. However, it is well-known that many Indians cleared and cultivated various crops up the steep slopes of the mountain. Their early farming was foundational to the later practice of the pioneer families who adopted some of the practices and whose farming practice is often described as “subsistence farming.”

It is maize agriculture that marks the “fundamental cultural changes associated with the Mississippian tradition,” writes Barry Lewis. This would possibly place the population in the Pine Mountain valley around A.D. 900. There does not appear to be a significant decline in the population of the area until the Europeans or their diseases had made progress into the interior of the country, around the late 1500s, into the 1600s. The recent publication of Charles C. Mann’s book, 1491, raises the question of the impact of disease in the New World and the resulting debate regarding the decimation of Native populations in the New World, has still not settled down. But, the population of Native Americans in the southeastern counties of Kentucky appears to be large and their number appears to be substantially above earlier calculations.

 

Ben Begley

Ben Begley, former director of the Environmental Education program, stands beside many of the Indian relics gathered over the years from in and around the School campus.

The current Environmental Education program has a rich collection of artifacts from the area’s Native Americans. The collections were donated by staff workers, Fred Burkhard and William Hayes, who both gathered flints, stone implements, and pottery shards from the fields of the School as the farmland was tilled in the 1930s through the 1950s. These implements and flints comprise the bulk of the Native American educational collection at Pine Mountain.

 

The collection has been inventoried and largely contains flint implements, arrowheads, some axes, metates or grinding stones, and pottery shards. A small number of ground stone gorgets and gaming pieces are included in the collection. Almost all the artifacts are identified with the Pine Mountain region or come directly from the School grounds.

 

indian_cliff_01

Indian Cliff Dwelling .

Title

Indian Cliff Dwelling

Alt. Title

Indian Cliff ; Rockshelter ; Rockhouse ;

Identifier

INDIAN CLIFF DWELLING

Creator

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

rockshelters ; students ; archaeology ; burial sites ; skeletons ; epidemics ; excavations ; University of Kentucky ; mattocks ; Indians ; Indian artifacts ; bones ; Indian remains ; Archaic Native Americans ; overhangs ; surface mining ; cliff sites ; explorers ; settlers ; hunters ; livestock ; nucleated family groups ; Isaac’s Run ; crops ; flint ; arrowheads ; axes ; shells ; gorgets ; graves ; University of Kentucky ; Dr. William D. Funkhouser ; zoologists ; Dr. Arthur McQuiston Miller ; geologists ; Mr. Victor K. Dodge ; anthropology ; physicists ; William S. Webb ; paleontology ; Kentucky ; William S. Webb ; Rockhouse ; Greasy Creek ; Middle Fork ; Kentucky River ; flint-makers ; skulls ; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) ; tribes ; Native Hawaiians ; Secretary of the Interior ; Federal Register ; databases ; grants ; civil penalties ; museums ; regulations ; training ; zoologists ; geologists ; fire-pits ; middens ; funeral songs ; funeralizing ; Howard Carter ; Lord Carnarvon ; King Tutankhamun’s Tomb ; farming communities ; reburials ; Pisgah phase ; Harlan County, KY ; Letcher County, KY ; Perry County, KY ; Kentucky Mississippian period ; Barry Lewis ; grain crops ; pioneer families ; maize agriculture ; Charles C. Mann ; Environmental Education ; artifact collections ; Fred Burkhard ; William Hayes ; pottery shards ; stone implements ; metates ; grinding stones ; axes ; gaming pieces ; Ben Begley ; Southern Appalachians ;; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ;

Subject LCSH

Funkhouser, William D.
Webb, William S.
Miller, Arthur.
Dodge, Victor K.
Indians of North America — Kentucky.
Paleo-Indians — Appalachian Region.
Indians of North America — Appalachian Region — Antiquities.
Excavations (Archaeology) — Appalachian Region.
Education — Appalachian Region.
Pine Mountain Settlement School — History.
Rural schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region.
Appalachian Region.
Indian Cliff Dwelling — Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Architecture — Pine Mountain Settlement School.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Historic Buildings — Kentucky — Appalachia.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.

Date digital

2001-05-27 ; 2013-12-18 ; 2014-01-13 ;

Publisher

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Contributor

n/a

Type

Collections ; text ; JPG images ;

Format

Original and copies of images, documents, and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet

Source

Series 10: Built Environment (Physical Plant)

Language

English

Relation

Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 10: Built Environment (Physical Plant) ; Kentucky Virtual Library collections <http://www.kyvl.org/> [searchable]
Berea College Southern Appalachian Archives <http://www.berea.edu/library/Special/saarchives.html>
Transylvania College Archives <http://www.transy.edu/libspcoll.html>
Univ. of KY Appalachian Archives <http://libraries.uky.edu/libpage.php?lweb_id=84&llib_id=13>
National Historic Landmarks Database <http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1756&ResourceType=District>

Coverage Temporal

Discovered 1926

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ;

Rights

Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Donor

n/a

Description

Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers about Indian Cliff ; clippings, photographs, books about Indian Cliff ; “Indian Cliff,” as it came to be known, was discovered by a student at Pine Mountain. The discovery led to the excavation of the site by Dr. W.D. Funkhouser of the University of Kentucky. This cliff, among many others, were the first dwellings of the Pine Mountain valley’s Native American inhabitants. Today the cliff and its story figure prominently in the Environmental Education program at the School. The archaeology at the site was some of the earliest fieldwork in the profession in Kentucky.

Acquisition

Constructed [year] : n/a

Citation

“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers, Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY, [date].

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2002-07-01 hw ; 2004-07-11 hw ; 2013-12-18 hw ; 2014-01-10 hw ; 2014-05-16 aae ; 2015-01-12 hhw ; 2015-12-02 hhw ; 2016-03-27 hhw

Bibliography

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Funkhouser, W D. Who’s Who in Kentucky. Lexington? KY, 1945. Print.

Funkhouser, W D. Wildlife in Kentucky: The Reptiles, Birds and Mammals of the Commonwealth, with a Discussion of Their Appearance, Habits and Economic Importance. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Geological Survey, 1925. Print.

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