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Carbon Dating Prehistoric Soot from Salts Cave, Kentucky

  • Frederick Benington (a1), Carl Melton (a1) and Patty Jo Watson (a1)

Abstract

The interiors of two large Kentucky caves — Mammoth Cave and nearby Salts Cave, both within Mammoth Cave National Park — were much visited and utilized by prehistoric Indians. Large quantities of artifacts and numerous other evidences of human activity are still present in both caves, especially in undisturbed portions of Salts Cave. Most of the remains comprise perishable materials of vegetable fiber and wood, and plants or plant parts carried into the caves by the aboriginal inhabitants of the region. Several collections of artifacts gathered 40 or 50 years ago from the surface in the Mammoth Cave area have recently been examined by D. W. Schwartz of the University of Kentucky. One such collection hints at a village site of the late Archaic-Early Woodland time range somewhere near the entrance to Salts Cave. In 1961, specimens of the black-brown ceiling and wall deposits which are quite extensive in parts of both Salts and Mammoth caves were collected and analyzed. The deposits were found to be soot, presumably from aboriginal torches and hearths whose remains occur plentifully in some areas of the caves. A sample of soot from Salts Cave was submitted for radiocarbon determination; the resulting date is 3075 ± 140 B.P. Two dates had been previously obtained by the National Park Service from artifacts in Mammoth Cave: 2230 ± 40 B.P. and 2370 ± 60 B.P. These three dates support the suggestion of a late Archaic-Early Woodland placement for the prehistoric activity in Salts and Mammoth caves.

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References

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Ball, S. H. 1941 The Mining of Gems and Ornamental Stones by American Indians. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 128. Washington.
Feiol, F. 1958 Spot Tests in Inorganic Analysis. Elsevier, New York and Amsterdam.
Hovey, H. C. 1909 The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. John Morton and Co., Louisville.
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Schwartz, D. W. 1958a Sandals and Textiles from Mammoth Cave National Park. MS, on file in the Mammoth Cave National Park Library, Visitor Center, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
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Schwartz, D. W. and Sloan, T. G. 1960 Archaeological Base Map and Survey of Mammoth Cave National Park. MS, on file in the Mammoth Cave National Park Library, Visitor Center, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.
Wedel, W. R. 1955 Archaeological Materials from the Vicinity of Mobridge, South Dakota. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 157. Washington.

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