Not Just a Hunting Ground: Native Americans in Kentucky- Adena Culture

 Woodland Period

Adena Culture- 500 B.C.- 200 A.D.


The Adena people were mobile hunter-gatherer- gardeners. The Adena people lived in extended family groups of roughly 15 to 20 people. Several extended families formed a lineage or clan. Between four to six lineage/clans would have made up an Adena social group. Leaders likely led by consent, and leadership was awarded based on merit. Division of labor was based on gender and age. Men would have been responsible for clearing the ground and hunting. Women would have been responsible for raising the children, gathering, and gardening. Religious leaders and healers, of both sexes, were elders.

The Adena people lived in small camps, often on terraces by streams or on ridgetops, and rock shelters. They moved within their home territories to best make use of seasonal wildlife and plants. They did not always return to their campsites year after year. Their homes would have been small, around 200 square feet, and most of their daily activities would have taken place outside.


Adena people, heavily built and strong, were small in stature.  They rarely grew to 6 ft tall. Like preindustrial people worldwide. Adena people generally did not live much past 45 years old. Most people experienced periods of malnutrition and infection in childhood. As adults, many suffered from arthritis, anemia, and infections.


Adena people traded locally with their neighbors. They also participated in long-distance trade networks. They traded local barite for copper and marine shells. 

Only a fraction of the Adena people that lived in the Bluegrass were buried below or within mounds. They may have been important members of Adena extended families or lineage/clans. Or, they may have held important social positions in their communities, like lineage/clan leader, diplomat, healer, or shaman.They were adult men and women of all ages.

EarthworksArtist Drawing of Mt. Horeb in Fayette County

Adena people created impressive earthworks with only digging sticks, baskets, and human muscle. Adena earthworks and the structures beneath them were ritual sites that enclosed sacred or spiritually significant spaces. They were situated on the landscape where neighboring groups interacted. 

Adena people made use of plant fibers and sinew to make twine, cord, and yarn, which they turned into bags, foot gear, and clothing. Animal skins and furs were also utilized for the same purpose. They used  herbal medicines to treat tooth, stomach and head aches; as well as fevers. They also made pottery tempered with limestone, that they occasionally decorated with           geometric designs.

Check out the PDF at the bottom to see the actual exhibit panel!

PDF icon Adena mounds,earthworks, and tech.pdf1.56 MB
PDF icon Adena.pdf1.19 MB