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State Submerged Resources > Kentucky


The Ohio River runs the entire length of Kentucky's northern border with Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. It joins the Mississippi River near Cairo, and the Mississippi River forms the state's western border with Missouri. Other noteworthy rivers flowing through Kentucky include the Cumberland River, Green River, and Kentucky River. Major lakes include Lake Barkley, Lake Cumberland, and Kentucky Lake. Although a landlocked state, about 680 square miles (less than 2%) of Kentucky are covered by water.

What is Kentucky's maritime history?

The Ohio River has always served as a major highway into the state. Settlers came to the area by flatboat and keelboat on the Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and other rivers beginning in the late 1770s. The state's first ferry was licensed in 1779 for operation on the Kentucky near Boonesborough and remained in operation until 1931. The Ohio saw its first steamboat in 1811 and, four years later, the first steamboat arrived in Louisville from New Orleans.

What sites are underwater?

Louisville served as the center for steamboat traffic on the Ohio through the Civil War when raiders and soldiers from both sides captured and scuttled boats. One unlucky passenger steamer was the Alice Dean. Captured near Brandenburg in 1863 by Confederate forces, the Alice Dean was used to ferry troops across the river to Indiana before being set afire and released, only to sink to the river bottom on the Kentucky side where it remains to this day.

Who takes care of Kentucky's underwater archeological sites?

The Kentucky Heritage Council is charged with preserving and protecting Kentucky's heritage including the state's archeological sites. The Kentucky Archaeological Survey is jointly administered by the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Heritage Council. The Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky has the power to issue permits upon the recommendation of the agencies that own or control the lands upon which the sites are located.

What permits do I need to study shipwrecks?

The Department of Anthropology grants permits that allow the exploration or excavation of archeological sites if the action is undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions with a view to promoting the knowledge of archeology or anthropology.

What laws concern underwater archeology in Kentucky?

Relevant laws are the Kentucky Antiquities Act codified at Kentucky Revised Statutes Title XIII 164.705, et seq. and the Kentucky Heritage Council at Kentucky Revised Statutes Title XIV 171.3801, et seq. Both are accessible on the state's legislative search engine.

These laws emphasize the importance of preserving archeological sites and objects of antiquity for the public benefit and limiting exploration, excavation and collection of such sites and objects to qualified persons and educational institutions possessing the requisite skills and whose purpose is to add to the general store of knowledge concerning archeology.

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