Saturday, August 15, 2015

At Big Bone Lick

Dear George,
I’m just back from a camping outing at Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County, Kentucky.  What an amazing place!  Big Bone Lick is known as the birthplace of American paleontology.  During the last great Ice Age, over 10,000 years ago. a myriad of now-extinct herbivorous mammals frequented the Lick: wooly mammoths, mastodons, the stag-moose, giant sloths, ancient bison, primitive horses.  The Lick’s salt springs and salty earth drew the animals which used it to supplement their diet.  Because of the swampy marsh land, many of the animals became mired down in the bogs and died there, their fossil remains preserved over the millennia.

Native Americans inhabited the region as far back as 13,000 years ago and used the Lick for hunting big game and gathering salt.  The first European to visit the Lick was a French Canadian, Charles LeMoyne, who came in 1739.   Meriwether Lewis traveled down the Ohio River to Big Bone in 1803 on his way to join William Clark for their westward journey, and Lewis sent a box of fossilized big bones back to President Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson devoted considerable study to Big Bone Lick and believed that some of the mammoth animals might still be living in the American West.  At Jefferson’s request, Clark later returned with a party of ten men and shipped three huge boxes of bones to Jefferson, who kept one batch at the White House and sent the remainder to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and to the National Institute of France in Paris.  A salt industry developed in the area in the late 1700’s, and Big Bone Lick, with its purported medicinal springs, became one of the most popular resorts in the Ohio Valley in the first half of the nineteenth century. 
The state park was established in 1960 and, along with a 62-site campground, includes a small museum which recounts the region’s history from 450 million years ago to the present and displays fossils and a 1,000 pound mastodon skull.  The 4.5 mile Discovery Trail includes stops at a salt springs and a viewing area for the bisons who live in the park.  I spent some time watching a herd of twelve glorious bisons on my visit, including four youngsters.  Here are a few photos.

SOURCES:, “Lewis and Clark Expedition: Big Bone Lick State Park”:, “Big Bone Lick History” 

The Museum Center

Mastodon Skull

Wooly Mammoth Molar

Woodland Muskox

Mastodon Tibia and teeth

Mastodon Tooth


Adena Flint Spear-Points

Mastodons at the Lick

On the Discovery Trail

The Lake

Ancient Bison

A Salt Spring

The Bison Herd

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