Kentucky SuperGraphic

Mammoth Cave archaeology


Over 12,000 years ago, when huge sheets of thick glacial ice coveredlarge portions of the North American continent, small nomadic groups ofpeople wandered over the Kentucky landscape. Today, archeologists referto these early American people as PaleoIndians, which means "ancientIndians. "However, we know very little about them. We don't know whatthey called themselves and we don't know what language they spoke. Weknow that they were experts at working stone to make spear points forthrusting into their prey. We know that they lived by hunting animalsand gathering plants, and we know that part of their time was spenthunting megafauna (large animals) such as bison, giant ground sloths,and mastodons. The PaleoIndians were a transient people, movingfrequently and moving long distances in order to follow animal herdsand collect nuts, berries, and other foods that ripened with theseasons. Because these people moved so often and traveled in smallgroups, there have been few opportunities to locate the places wherethey camped. So far, only a few spear points of the PaleoIndian peoplehave been found in Mammoth Cave National Park.

Archaic Indians

Over time, temperatures warmed, glaciersretreated to the north, megafauna became extinct, and the localenvironment changed from a forest dominated by pine, spruce, and fir toa forest of mixed hardwoods containing oak and hickory. The populationof the Indians also increased. With these environmental changes camechanges in the ways native Americans lived. Instead of huntingmegafauna, they hunted smaller animals such as deer, turkey, andraccoon. They continued to make fine stone tools, but they made them indifferent shapes and sizes, reflecting the new hunting methodsdeveloped to more efficiently capture smaller animals. Because thesedescendants of paleoIndians practiced a different way of life fromtheir ancestors, archeologists have given them a different name: theArchaic Indians. The Archaic period dates from 8000 B.C. to 1000 Kentucky. The earliest Archaic peoples continued a foraging way oflife similar to the that of their PaleoIndian ancestors. Small groupsof related peoples, called "bands," frequently moved within theirhunting territories, collecting various plants and animals as theybecame seasonally available. Several Early Archaic (8000-6000 B.C.)sites exist in Mammoth Cave National Park.

Middle Archaic Period

As the numbers of Archaic peoplegrew, the number of bands grew, and the hunting territory of each bandshrank in size. The smaller territories and the differences in localenvironments between territories led to the development of more andmore differences between groups. Members of each band adapted to theconditions, developing new tools and modifying seasonal movements andhunting and gathering strategies to take advantage of the resourceswithin their own territory. In Mammoth Cave National Park, this slowadaption to local environments is reflected in an increase in thenumber and types of artifacts, especially spear points, found from theMiddle Archaic period (6000-3000 B.C.). Bands did not live inisolation. They came in contact with other bands, and they exchangedchert, shells, copper, and marriage partners.

Late Archaic Period

During the Late Archaic period(3000-1000 B.C.) the numbers of people in this region continued togrow. During the later portion of the Archaic period, the Indians beganmaking pottery, cultivating gardens, and growing domesticated plants.It was near the end of the Late Archaic period that Indians beganexploring Mammoth Cave and other caves in the area, collecting mineralsthey found. Why Late Archaic people traveled miles within Mammoth Caveto collect selenite, mirabilite, epsomite, and gypsum is a matter ofspeculation. The most likely reason is that these minerals were valuedfor their medicinal properties and/or ceremonial uses, and that theywere traded to other groups for food, shells, chert, and other goods.

Woodland Indians

The adoption of gardening andpottery-making signaled the beginning of fundamental changes in the wayIndians lived. No longer did they have to rely solely upon wild animalsand plants for their subsistence. Now, they could increase their foodsupply by growing some of their food in gardens. In recognition ofthese and other changes that occurred in the lives of the Indians,archeologists have called the period following the adoption ofpottery-making and gardening the Woodland period. The Woodland periodin Kentucky dates from 1000 B.C. to 900 A.D., and like the Archaicperiod, has been subdivided into Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, andLate Woodland periods. During the Woodland period, populations grew andaggregated in larger and larger groups. Groups moved less often andformed small semi-permanent villages. Along with the populationincrease and a more settled lifestyle, Indian social organizationchanged from the loosely organized hunter/gatherer band organizationcharacteristic of the Archaic period to more complex tribal-like socialorganization where village and lineage elders exercised some controlsover the actions of their followers. Along with this increasing socialcomplexity came changes in technology, economy, religion, and mortuaryceremonialism.

Early Woodland Period

During the Early Woodland period(1000-200 B.C.), ceramic manufacture became widespread among Indiangroups. The earliest pottery types were thick walled, barrel-shapedpots tempered with chert and/or limestone that prevented cracking. Newpottery vessel forms, temper methods, and decorative treatmentsproliferated later during the Woodland period. It was also during theEarly Woodland that burial mound construction was added to theceremonial system. Exploration for minerals in Mammoth Cave continuedduring the Early Woodland period but for reasons not yet understood,ceased soon afterward. The number of sites in the park and the numberof tools used also increased from the preceding Archaic period. TheEarly Woodland period was also a time of horticultural expansion withthe cultivation of sunflower, maygrass, goosefoot, sumpweed and othernative plants. Indians, however, continued to rely on hunting andgathering to provide a major portion of their diet.

Middle Woodland Period

The Middle Woodland period (200 B.C.- 500 A.D.) is noted for a florescence in mortuary and ceremonialactivity and for far-reaching trade networks. Shells were traded fromthe Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and points in between. Obsidianwas traded from Wyoming to Ohio. Mica and copper were traded from theAppalachian Mountains to Ohio and beyond. Artisans made copper, shell,and mica ornaments for village leaders. Large mound and earthworkcomplexes were constructed and elaborate ceremonial rites wereperformed by religious specialists. During the Middle Woodland period,maize (corn) was first introduced to the eastern U.S. from thesouthwestern U.S. However, it wasnt until much later in the LateWoodland period that Indians grew corn in sufficient quantities toprovide a significant portion of their diet. In the Mammoth Cave area,the Middle Woodland period was a time of resettlement. People no longeroccupied the uplands as frequently as their Archaic and Early Woodlandancestors did. Native Americans spent more and more of their timeliving in the floodplain near the Green River, where gardens could begrown and tended. During this period, mining activities that hadoccurred during the Early Woodland period stopped and were neverresumed.

Late Woodland Period

For reasons not yet understood, theelaborate mortuary and ceremonial activity that occurred during theMiddle Woodland period ended during the Late Woodland period (500 to900 A.D.). The Late Woodland people continued to live life much liketheir Middle Woodland ancestors, but they no longer traded shells,copper, mica, and other goods in large quantities. During the LateWoodland period, the bow and arrow was invented and soon replaced thelance as the primary weapon for hunting. The population continued toincrease and greater and greater reliance was placed on growing plantsfor food. Hunting deer, turkey, raccoon, and other animals, andcollecting nuts and other wild plants continued to provide importantsources of food.

Mississippian Cultures

The Mississippian period followedthe Woodland period, and ended with the arrival of the first Europeansto America. This period lasted from around 900 - 1500 A.D. TheMississippian period was the period during which Native Americancultures reached their greatest complexity. This complexity wasmanifested in a hierarchy of settlement types ranging from small singlefamily residences or "farmsteads" to large ceremonial centers andvillages, a stratified social/political organization that has beenbroadly compared to chiefdom level societies, specialization in theproduction of various commodities, and a heavy reliance on farmingcorn. Technological and stylistic changes in the material cultureaccompanied the shift from Woodland to Mississippian. These includedthe use of shell as a tempering material in the manufacture of pottery,new pottery vessel forms (salt pans, plates, "cazuella type" jars, andwater bottles), and rectangular wall trench house construction (thepoles that formed the house walls were set in trenches dug into theground). In the Mammoth Cave area, there appears to be a decrease inthe number of Mississippian sites compared to earlier periods. This isprobably because the floodplain along the Green River is not very wideand does not offer much room for farming. Like their ancestors, theMississippians did not live by farming alone. They also hunted, fishedand gathered wild plants.

Proto-Historic Cultures

The Proto-Historic period inKentucky is the time following the arrival of the first Europeans toAmerica and before the arrival of the first white settlers. During thisperiod, native inhabitants of Kentucky did not have much direct contactwith Europeans, but they were greatly affected by the dislocation ofother Indian groups caused by the intrusion of the English, French, andSpanish. Measles, smallpox, and other diseases had the most devastatingeffect on the Indians lives. Estimates place the mortality rate of someIndian groups as high as 75% as a result of the European diseases. Bythe time the first white settlers moved to Kentucky following theRevolutionary War, much of the land was used as a hunting ground by theShawnee, Cherokee, and other groups. Soon, white settlers pushed thesefew remaining tribes from their lands. So ended thousands of years ofNative American settlement in Kentucky and Mammoth Cave National Park.

Based on article written by Guy Prentice, National Park Service archeologist

Stephen L. Bishop

"Mammoth is a grand, gloomy, and peculiar place - and a place not soon to give up its last deepest secret."
- Stephen Bishop

In 1822 Stephen L. Bishop wasborn in Kentucky. His parents were slaves belonging to Franklin Gorin,who, along with A.A. Harvey purchased the unexplored Mammoth Cavesystem in 1838. As a child, Stephen worked and played around the cave.

When people began to stop by and ask Gorin if theycould see the cave, he turned to the 17-year old Bishop to conduct thetours. Eventually, Gorin decided to charge admission and Bishop becamethe first "official" cave guide in the nation. In 1839 Gorin soldMammoth Cave to Dr. John Croghan, who insisted that Bishop remain ascave guide.

As word of the cave's wonders spread, tourists andscientists came to visit Mammoth Cave. The success of this money-makingactivity was partly due to Bishop's skill as a guide.

Bishop was self-educated, conversant in Latin andGreek, athletic, resourceful and fascinated by the countless surprisesthat the cave yielded. With his knowledge of the cave and thebiological and geological specimens within, he quickly became theresiding expert on Mammoth Cave and one of America's most renownedexplorers.

In his first year Bishop doubled the known length ofthe cave - and, equally important, generated a flurry of newspaperstories about the cave's receding frontier and its intrepid guide. Hewas one of the first to draw an accurate map of Mammoth Cave in 1842(his hand drawn map was published in 1845). He is also credited fordiscovering the River Styx, Echo River, Mammoth Dome, the Snowball Roomand the blindfish from the Echo River.

Bishop became a free man in 1850, after Dr. Croghandied, but he chose to remain at the cave. Bishop died during the summerof 1857. He is buried in the "Old Guide's Cemetery" on the ridge topsouth of the cave entrance.

Mammoth explorers

Some of the earliest people to exploreMammoth Cave are believed to be the Adena Indians over 4,000 years ago.It is not believed that they lived in the cave but only explored it. Byfinding Indian artifacts in the cave, archeologists can determine thatthe early explorers went almost a mile into the cave. Speculation isthat the Indians collected minerals found in the cave, selenite,mirabilite, epsomite and gypsum, for their medicinal properties and/orceremonial uses, and that they were traded to other groups for food,shells and other goods. In 1935, guides discovered the mummified bodyof an ancient gypsum miner.

The cave was first seen by whites in the late 1790's. Legend has itthat in 1799 a Kentucky hunter named John Houchins wounded a woundedbear and followed the trail of blood to the mouth of a cave near theGreen River. Unable to see the bear, Houchins entered the cave. Hefollowed the blood through another opening and discovered a hugechamber. This entrance is known today as the Historic Entrance toMammoth Cave.

In 1838 Franklin Gorin, a local landowner purchased the cave asa tourist attraction. Stephen L. Bishop, one of his slaves, became thefirst guide and made many important discoveries within Mammoth Cave.Bishop was one of the first to draw an accurate map of Mammoth Cave andis credited for discovering the Styx River, Echo River, Mammoth Dome,the Snowball Room and the blindfish from the Echo River. His hand drawnmap was published in 1845.

In 1908, Ed Bishop, a grandnephew of Stephen Bishopmade more important discoveries within the cave: Violet City, KaemperHall and Bishop's Pit. With the help of a German visitor, Ed Bishopmade an even more detailed and accurate map of Mammoth Cave.

Cave life Glossary of cave terms