Indian Knoll (3000–2000 B.C.)

Works of Art


Indian Knoll is the name given to the most well known of the many mounds that flourished as living sites for several millennia B.C. at the conjunction of what are now the Green and Ohio rivers in Ohio County, Kentucky. Rich in natural resources, the area supported many generations of hunter-gatherers, while the mounds, essentially shell middens (refuse heaps), grew large. The Indian Knoll mound itself was elliptical in shape and covered an area of about two acres. At the center its deposits were up to eight feet deep. Many hundreds of burials were discovered in the mound during the first half of the twentieth century. The burials were of individuals, not groups, and included men, women, children, and dogs. Many held gender-specific objects. Men were interred with axes, fishhooks, and tools, while women were accompanied by mortars, pestles, and beads. The third millennium B.C. was a period of innovation when such objects as rattles, flutes, and smoking pipes came into use, and ornaments of special materials, even imported ones, were made. Valued possessions such as these were buried with their owners.

Some of the most impressive and beautifully made stone objects to come from Indian Knoll burials are the so-called bannerstones. Thought to be weights for spear-throwers to which they would have been strapped, apparently for the stability of the spear shaft, the objects were fabricated from carefully chosen stones and worked with particular attention to the natural color and pattern of the stone itself. Of functional necessity, they were well balanced and finished. Bannerstones are small masterpieces of design and form. A wide range of stones of different color, translucency, and weight were used in a wide variety of shapes. Some bannerstones are so shapely that their functional aspects appear secondary. Two different types are illustrated here. They are made of chalcedony and banded clay stone respectively. The latter was discovered in a child’s grave that included a short necklace of shell beads also strung with two wolf teeth.

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2003


Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “Indian Knoll (3000–2000 B.C.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)

Further Reading

Brose, David S., et al. Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians. New York: Abrams, 1985.

Jennings, Jesse D. Prehistory of North America. 3d ed. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. Co., 1989.