Discovering Boone’s Station

In 1999, in cooperation with Dr. Don Linebaugh and Nancy O’Malley of the University of Kentucky, conductivity and magnetometry surveys were completed of the site of Daniel Boone’s second Kentucky settlement (following Boonesborough) located near Athens, Kentucky, and known as Boone’s Station. This work, part of an archaeological field school conducted through the University, explored the nature of the station and how it changed through the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Although well known in local lore, no structures were visible on the surface of the site in 1999, though earlier geophysical survey by Dr. Berle R. Clay and testing by O’Malley demonstrated that archaeological evidence for the settlement existed.


Dr. Berle R. Clay used a magnetometer to assist in the survey.

Boone’s Station is historically remembered as a defensive residence called a “station,” perhaps a refuge for local settlers during the Revolutionary War. Sometime in the 1790s, a stone house was built at the station. Log cabins connected by sections of log stockage formed a rectangular enclosure that protected settlers from periodic Native American attacks.

A conductivity survey of the station area  indicated archaeological features in a general way. Prominent is an area of low conductivity (large rectangle) suggesting stone, stone rubble, or the more organic (rather than clay) filling of a depressed area. There are other low conductivity “concentrations” (smaller rectangles). For this survey with the Geonics EM38, readings were taken at 50-cm intervals along transects one meter apart from each other.


Results of the conductivity survey.

The magnetometer survey with the Geoscan Research fluxgate gradiometer (Figure 2, middle right) provides substantially greater structural detail for the survey area. This is dominated by what is clearly a substantial, low magnetic, limestone foundation (large white rectangle), suggesting a major building. Subsequent excavation by O’Malley indicated that this is the major structure built at the end of use of the site as a station and lasting into the first half of the nineteenth century. Additional structures were archaeologically identified on either side of this main structure and to the north of it (smaller white rectangles). These structures were probably original station cabins that continued to be used after the site was converted to a farmstead. Other features may be represented in the magnetic data that have yet to be explored.


Results of the magnetometer survey.

Coming at the beginning of excavation, these geophysical surveys of this historic station site have provided important data, hypothetically on structure location, which has been used to structure conventional archaeological fieldwork. Comparing conductivity survey with magnetometry (Figure 3, bottom right), work at Boone’s Station indicates that the former works best in distinguishing large features covering a somewhat wide area. Gradiometer data, on the other hand, can provide considerable detail on much smaller structures.


Comparing the results of the conductivity survey and the magnetometer survey

In 2002, Nancy O’Malley presented her paper Field Investigations at Daniel Boone’s Frontier Station, Fayette County, Kentucky at the Southern Historical Association conference in Mobile, Alabama. The geophysical survey conducted by Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc., helped to provide archaeologists with a map of where structures might be located under the surface. Geophysical surveys can be very beneficial to archaeologist when trying to unearth previous structures.


This blog contributed by Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.