Fort Ancient Village

An Ancient Village At Augusta
Since 1796 – the beginning of non-Native settlement at the confluence of Bracken Creek and the Ohio River – residents of the Town of Augusta in Bracken County have known about the Native farming village that once stood on this flat floodplain terrace.

Even now, when residents till their gardens, lay waterlines, or dig basements, there is a good chance they will encounter artifacts and evidence of this ancient settlement.
Kentucky was not a “dark and bloody ground” as depicted in historical accounts. For 700 years – from A.D. 1000-1750 – Kentucky’s Native peoples farmed, hunted, and traded with other villages in the Ohio Valley and beyond. Diverse Native peoples lived in Kentucky for thousands of years before that, beginning around 9,500 B.C.

The Fort Ancient Peoples
Fort Ancient peoples lived in the middle Ohio River Valley from A.D. 1000 to 1750. They lived in permanent villages, grew crops, hunted, fished, made salt, and traded goods, like marine shell, with other villages throughout the region. Fort Ancient people preceded the Shawnee and other historically documented tribes.

Village life revolved around planting, growing, and harvesting corn, beans and squash. Corn and beans made up 60% of their diet. These Native hunter-gatherer-farmers used animal bone or freshwater mussel shell hoes to work their agricultural fields. They made pottery vessels in many forms – jars, bowls, pans, and colanders – and attached human and animal effigies to some bowls. Fort Ancient chiefs were chosen based on their personal leadership qualities. Leaders wore stylized figures engraved on shell gorgets (ornaments worn around the neck). Some people were buried in stone box graves.

Contact with Europeans was indirect, reflected by items made in Europe, like metal ornaments (beads, pen¬dants) and very rarely, glass beads that filtered into Kentucky through Native trade networks.

Archaeological Research At Augusta
Archaeological research at Augusta has been piecemeal, but it has revealed that Fort Ancient hunter-gatherer-farmers lived at Augusta during the beginning decades of Kentucky’s Early Contact Period (A.D. 1550-1730). During this period, they pursued lives very much like those of their immediate ancestors.

The village likely held over 500 people. Extended families lived in large communal houses, arranged in clusters with associated outdoor work areas and cemetery plots. The village also likely had a community council house/community structure, and adjacent open area or plaza.

The village site extends beneath much of the town. Three radiocarbon dates suggest that Native village farmers lived on this spot at least twice: once before A.D. 1550 and once after. Archaeological research has documented evidence of houses and basin-shaped trash pits. Village midden (trash) deposits are of variable thickness. Food remains are similar to what archaeologists have recovered from contemporary Fort Ancient village sites: white-tailed deer, bear, elk, wild turkey; small mammals; corn, beans, squash, nuts, and wild fruits.

Dense concentrations of graves are scattered throughout the village, representing designated cemeteries. Graves are shallow pits, often covered by limestone slabs. Native-made grave offerings include jars, arrowheads, bone and shell beads and pendants, and smoking pipes.
Items of European manufacture, such as copper/brass beads and glass beads, indicate that the Augusta site residents were involved in long-distance trade with groups to the south. Unlike the Augusta residents, those groups had face-to-face economic encounters with Europeans.

The Powerful Pull of Home
At archaeological sites located on the floodplains of major rivers, researchers often encounter deeply buried cultural deposits. Debris from human occupation builds up over time, and sometimes these cultural materials are separated by sterile soil zones – soils deposited by river floodwaters.
At Augusta, the situation is no different. In 1984, archaeologists documented deep midden deposits over two feet thick – a testimony to the Native residents’ attachment to this place. A six to eight inch, nearly sterile soil separated two trash zones that held Fort Ancient cultural materials.

What was surprising was that the artifacts in the “older” lower zone were the same as those in the “more recent” upper zone.

Here’s what the archaeologists inferred:
1. Sometime around A.D. 1550, Ohio River floodwaters covered all or a part of the village. This must have been quite a flood, because this single event deposited between six and eight inches of soil in this location. Perhaps this was a low-lying spot in the village. Still, a flood of this magnitude likely washed away at least some of the homes and other domestic equipment, like outside drying racks, and anything on the ground not tied down.
2. Once the floodwaters receded and the land dried out, residents returned immediately and rebuilt their homes. They began depositing their trash in this location again, just like before the flood.

The Marker
Few Kentucky Highway markers celebrate our Commonwealth’s long Native history. And when Native peoples are mentioned at all in these signs, more often than not, they are men raiding and killing European settlers. This marker seeks to place Kentucky’s Native history in context, beginning with the farming peoples.

Fort Ancient Village at Augusta

Augusta is located on the site of
a major settlement of the Fort
Ancient people, who lived here
between AD 1500 and 1650.
The village consisted of large
communal houses built around
a central plaza. Archaeologists
documented artifacts & burials
over a wide area. The village
was abandoned by 1650.

Who were Fort Ancient People?

Fort Ancient people lived in
the middle Ohio River Valley from
AD 1000 to 1750. They lived in
villages, grew crops (including
corn, beans and squash), hunted,
fished, made salt, and traded
goods, like marine shell, with
other villages throughout the
region. Fort Ancient people
preceded Shawnee and other tribes.

When you visit Augusta today, you will not see the village – it is completely invisible to the eye. Built of wooden poles and bark, they had deteriorated centuries before the first non-Native people landed their flat boats.
And while the people of Augusta know that their community sits on top of the remains of a Fort Ancient village, few outside of the Augusta community do.
The marker describing the Fort Ancient settlement at Augusta, a project of the Augusta Rotary Club, seeks to raise awareness about the history and culture of Kentucky’s Fort Ancient people and, by doing so, expand the historic narrative of the town and our Commonwealth to include what preceded the official establishment of Kentucky.