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In 2014 the Conservancy entered into an agreement to purchase Backusburg Mounds, one of the most intriguing sites in Western Kentucky. A complex of at least eight mounds situated on the bluff overlooking Clark’s River, Backusburg has been known to professional archaeologists since the 1920s. In their seminal 1932 work Archaeological Survey of Kentucky, William Funkhouser and William S. Webb described the mounds and a floodplain site below it as “probably the most important prehistoric sites in the [western Kentucky] region.” 

In spite of Backusburg Mounds obvious significance, professional archaeologists have been able to work there for only a single day of mapping and surface collecting.  That work, conducted in 1981 by Murray State University (MSU) archaeologist Kenneth Carstens and his students, established the spatial dimensions of the site and clarified its placement in the regional cultural history.  

The site’s most substantial feature is a burial mound situated at its north end. It measures 150 feet by 75 feet at the base, and formerly was about 10 feet high, but it has been much reduced by looting and logging. At the southern end is another prominent mound about 60 feet in diameter and six feet high. Between these two mounds is an array of cultural features, including at least two more mounds about 25 feet in diameter and three feet tall, and four very low rectangular platform mounds that likely supported structures. Looters exposed human remains at one of the platforms, suggesting it may have supported a charnel house. 

Analysis of the site’s artifacts indicates that it flourished during the Mississippian period, ca. A.D. 900-1400. However, some of the pottery recovered from a funerary area of the site may date to the preceding Late Woodland period, ca. A.D. 500-900. This could be a particularly significant find, as Late Woodland period mounds sites are unknown in western Kentucky, although they occur in the adjacent portions of Tennessee, Missouri, and Illinois.  Hence future research at the Backusburg Mounds may illuminate a particularly enigmatic part of Kentucky’s prehistory, as well as furthering our understanding of the Mississippian period in western Kentucky.  Because of its obvious potential for providing significant information about prehistory, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Late in 2012, Sherry McKinney, the recently widowed owner of the site, contacted MSU to see what could be done to preserve it. Kit Wesler, director of the MSU Archaeological Laboratory, put the Conservancy in touch with her.  Through a series of negotiations, an agreement was reached that will allow the Conservancy to purchase about 22 acres of her property, while allowing her to retain eight acres along with a house and outbuildings. The Conservancy paid $85,000 for the property. To prevent further looting, we fenced the rambling property, which required additional funding.