Preparing for Living Archaeology Weekend

Living Archaeology Weekend is the oldest and largest public archaeology event in Kentucky. One weekend in the fall, archaeologists, demonstrators, and school groups gather at the Gladie Cabin in Red River Gorge to see and experience how Native Americans and pioneers lived. Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) is designed to be an educational experience that is linked with the material that students are learning in class. LAW supplements their understanding of Kentucky history and prehistory. Demonstrators also focus on issues of stewardship.

This year we are celebrating our 25th anniversary. So, in addition to the logistics that need to be taken care of every year, we are also planning some special activities that honor those that have made this event a success since 1989. Planning is divided among a steering committee composed of representatives from a several different agencies across Kentucky.

Student using a Blow Gun at the first LAW - 1989.

Student using a Blow Gun at the first LAW – 1989.

So what did the steering committee do during the Day of Archaeology? Preparing for Living Archaeology Weekend is a long detailed process. We have monthly meetings to update each other on progress for different tasks. Emails regarding everything from funding issues to reserving portable latrines are exchanged at all hours of the day. When nearly 3,000 people visit this event, issues like sanitation and parking are critical.

Each member of the steering committee brings a different skill set to the table. The combination of these skills is what makes this event work. To illustrate this, some members of the steering committee volunteered a paragraph describing the things they do related to Living Archaeology Weekend on a typical day.

Mark A. Engler – As Director for the Gladie Cultural and Environmental Learning Center, my focus is to provide logistical planning and coordination for LAW events at the Learning Center, which is located in the Red River Gorge on the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Center’s goal  is to create a quality setting for  LAW attendees including school children, presenters and the general public. I provide for event staffing, presenter booths and equipment as well as various coordination tasks, such as event signage, communication and logistical support.

Darlene Applegate – I represent the Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists (KyOPA) on the LAW Steering Committee. One of KyOPA’s main responsibilities is fundraising for the event, so I coordinate those efforts. I research funding opportunities, submit proposals, prepare invoices, maintain financial records, and prepare annual reports to our sponsors. As the web master for our new LAW web site, I design pages, upload content, and respond to public queries. I also assist with developing and designing content sheets, recipes, posters, lesson plans, scavenger hunts, and other educational resources for the event. In the month preceding the event I coordinate the volunteer force, prepare the event program, reserve hotels, and order merchandise. At the event I volunteer as a demonstrator at the native plants domestication booth.

Gwynn Henderson – I’m one of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey’s representatives on the LAW Steering Committee.  Given that archaeology education is one of the Survey’s missions, it’s within this realm that I make most of my LAW contributions.  My responsibility is to keep track of the educational materials we have developed and make sure the new materials we create or adapt or the workshops we offer are relevant to the LAW mission.  I write some of the LAW educational content and lessons. Through my contacts with educators, I make sure our materials are aligned to the Kentucky Program of Studies for 5th Grade and work with a University of Kentucky colleague to assess and evaluate the educational effectiveness of LAW’s programming and what students are learning when they come to the event. Over the past couple of years, I have spearheaded the evaluation of demonstrators at the event and been responsible for the annual student essay contest judging.

Nicolas Laracuente – I am one of the Kentucky Heritage Council’s representatives on the LAW Steering Committee. On my most active day as LAW ‘social media guru’ I will check the messages that we received via Facebook, twitter and email. Then I will get on Buffer an schedule our social media posts for the week. This year is the 25th anniversary of law so we are tapping into the law archives to remind people of all of the great things that have been accomplished and how far we have come. Social media is a small part of LAW. It wouldn’t even be possible without the work done by the rest of the committee.

These short steering committee bios only cover a portion of the work that goes into making this event successful for the last 25 years. If you want more information on LAW 2013 follow us on Twitter or check out our Facebook page.

Meeting the Challenge of Public Archaeology

Who knew that the meeting Kary and I would have with the folks at the Capitol City Museum in downtown Frankfort, Kentucky on Day of Archaeology 2012 would be such a pregnant one! and actually, as our picture shows, Kary IS pregnant…


Kary Stackelbeck and Gwynn Henderson just before we left for our incredible Day of Archaeology 2012 meeting

Our meeting was about planning an education project for school students to be held on National Archaeology Day in October at the site of an historic dairy atop Fort Hill in Frankfort. But by the time our meeting was over, 2.5 hours later, all of us in attendance (Kary, me, John, and Mike) had laid the foundation for a much longer-term project. It included a survey for all prehistoric and historic sites on the city park; and the development of a long-term research, education, interpretation, and management program for the sites.

For 2012, there will be visits to the local schools with artifacts already recovered from historic sites on the park to show students tangible remains of their local history; and tours will be held at the park, to engage the public and to kick-off the project.

WOO HOO!!!! This is what public archaeology is all about!! Archaeolgists and community members collaborating for the benefit of everyone and for the resource, too.

It just goes to show you, that in ANY aspect of archaeology, in the field or out of it, you don’t always know what you’ll find, and you need to be prepared for anything!!!

Hope everyone’s Day of Archaeology 2012 was as productive as Kary’s and mine!


Drawing Cave Art in Kentucky

“Awe” would be the word that sums up my experiences on the Day of Archaeology. I spent the weekend working in a cave documenting prehistoric rock art; a project that completely ripped me out of my archaeological comfort zone putting me back into the position of archaeological newbie with a lot to learn.

I spent the project under the care of Brandon Ritchison, an archaeologist who recently graduated with a Bachelor Degree from the University of Kentucky and is on the way to a graduate program in the fall. He was building on research he completed for his Undergrad Thesis and intends to present it at the Southeastern Archaeology Conference this year (so you can get all the details about the research project there, I will not share them in this post for a variety of reasons). I owed Brandon some labor in return for his help on my dissertation field work earlier in the year and I had been in caves numerous times during middle and high school field trips to Mammoth Cave National Park. What I didn’t realize was that this was  a “wild cave”… about as far away from Mammoth Cave’s manicured paths, modern lighting, and massive open spaces as you could get.

Packing for this excursion was much different than other projects. We weren’t excavating, just taking photos, drawing, and marking things on a map. My field pack consisted of lots of food and water (it was 106 degrees outside) and light sources (I think I had 7 lights of various sizes), LOTS of replacement batteries, and a long sleeve shirt. Brandon provided a helmet with lantern.

Me geared up and ready to go. I wore a long sleeve shirt in the cave.

The road the lead to the cave was blocked by fallen trees and we had to hike about an hour and a half through the hundred degree weather to the cave entrance. Arriving at the entrance is where I realized that this weekend would be spent outside of my comfort zone.

Instead of a wide cavernous opening (see the Mammoth Cave Website link above for an image of the opening I was expecting) there was a solid rock wall with an opening about .75 meter high at the base of it. I hadn’t asked Brandon about the dimensions of the cave because, honestly, up until that point I hadn’t thought of it. I wasn’t sure if I was afraid of small spaces because, honestly, up until that point I never had to crawl into something so small.

A few things got me through that initial trepidation:

  1. A map showing that the cave opened up after about 14 feet (5 meters) of crawling
  2. curiosity about my own psychological limitations
  3. there was a really cool breeze coming out of the cave… 60 something degrees is a lot better than 106 degrees
  4. knowing that I had already Tweeted about doing this for Day of Archaeology and wanting to post something more fun than stopping at the entrance of a cool cave and turning around.

So with an advanced apology of possibly freaking out, I followed the rest of the team crawling into the ground and then it was instantly dark. I mean REALLY dark, to the point where I really couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or shut. Flicking on the lights illuminated a ceiling covered with cave crickets, there was a salamander, and a few bats.

Cave Crickets covered the ceiling in most areas


The map showed that the cave was about 700 ft (200 meters) deep and had multiple passages. The first section that we were standing in was large enough to put a four lane highway in, the ceiling varied from a few stories high to a few feet.

The cave was wet and about half of the walls had been covered in flow stone which had been destroyed by early Kentuckians who mined it and carved the crystalline rock into knick-knacks. The floor was covered with sharp stones from this mining and there were a few traces left of their activity.


There was a variety of cave art. Much of it was historic graffiti consisting of names and dates of different visitors to the cave. These were either etched into the walls and ceiling or “candle marked” with the soot from torches, candles, or lanterns.

In certain areas there were prehistoric petroglyphs (art that is incised into the rock). Surprisingly, the only way that most of this art was really visible is when your headlight is off and the wall is indirectly illuminated at an oblique angle. This made collections of zigzag lines and concentric squares stand out in relief. Sometimes it was so faint, I wondered if most of the cave’s visitors even realized that it was there.

The corner of some concentric squares only visible when the light is at an angle.

Lighting made the art very difficult to photograph and draw, but I opted to spend the day drawing a concentration of art several meters long that covered the ceiling. The other option was to belay across a very deep pit and squeeze through a rock tube that was about the diameter of my shoulder width for about 10 meters before reaching the final cavern.

This was the easy part

Being my first time in a wild cave I decided not to push my luck and I would tackle that challenge when I return on a future expedition. After spending about 8 hours in the cave we crawled back out of the cave.

Water on the cave ceiling where I spent most of the day

While the project was fun, the archaeology was interesting, and I was already making a list of caving gear I wanted to buy, but I had never been so glad to see the hot summer sun.

Light at the cave entrance as we were leaving.

Hello World!!! From the University of Kentucky’s Summer Fieldschool in Archaeology

Hello Everybody!!

The last day of our eight-week field school was July 29th: Day of Archaeology Day!!!  And as everyone knows, sites always ALWAYS throw you a curve on the last day.

Excavating the last level in a 1 x 2 meter unit we had excavated at this site in 1984 did, indeed, throw us a curve (we should have just let sleeping dogs lie), but our REAL problem this year was that we had bitten off a little more than we could chew the week before: about four 2 x 2 meter units’ worth!

We couldn’t help it. This summer is the last, the very very LAST in a three-year excavation program at a very challenging, very interesting, and very complex prehistoric site where village farming peoples lived on and off from about A.D. 1200  to the early A.D. 1600s.

Our eight University of Kentucky undergraduate students, three instructors, and several devoted volunteers were at the site on July 29th, and all of us could have gotten into the act.  But we reserved our Day of Archaeology contribution for the students.

We asked each of them to tell us (to tell YOU), in a word or a sentence, what field school meant to them. The video you are about to see, courtesy of Nick Laracuente, says it all: about why we do archaeology and why we HAVE fieldschools.

So… here is our Day Of Archaeology posting.

Three cheers for archaeology! Hip Hip Hoo-RAY!!

Gwynn Henderson

The Last Day of Digging at University of Kentucky’s Archaeology Field School

I am a research assistant for the Kentucky Archaeology Survey. This means that I help out where I am needed. This week started by teaching groups of sixth graders about archaeology during a day camp (a post for another time). It ended with what I expect is a yearly tradition for most academic archaeologists: the final push during archaeology field school.

The directors of the field school will be preparing a post in the next week, so I won’t steal their thunder. Instead I’ll just talk about my relatively tiny role in the day.

My tent... REALLY early this morning

This year the University of Kentucky field school was held at a Fort Ancient (AD 1000 – AD 1750) site in Northern Kentucky. The site is massive and this year the excavations were focused on a concentration of posts and overlapping pit features. By concentration, I mean hundreds of features in the relatively small area of the site that is exposed. Next week the field school is concentrating on lab work, so for all intensive purposes this was the final full day of excavation, photographs, and documentation. As a result archaeologists from across the state came out help finish the excavations.

My assignment was to clean, photo, score, and draw the profiles of a completed unit.

Today my home away from a home was Unit 92, a cozy 1 x 2 m unit that was mostly 67-72 cm deep with the exception of a series of overlapping pits that extended to 123 cm deep. I found that the unit had a different volunteer working on it for every level of excavation meaning that the notes were mixed and the interpretation of the stratigraphy was based on a lengthy discussion between be and one of the principle investigators Dr. Gwynn Henderson.

The view from Unit 92

Photocleaning the walls required some archaeological yoga. Two bones were sticking out of the wall in such a way that they could collapse everything it I hit them. The basin that made up about half of the unit was steeply sloped with a slick yellowish clay bottom that absorbed every bit of dark soil that fell (requiring another trowel down). Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the awkward poses I had to assume to finish the work, but the profile pictures got taken.

Interpreting the different deposits took a while. Gwynn and I finally concurred that this unit was at least two and possibly three pits that were intruded on by post holes and disturbed by different rodents.

Plowzone, Posts, Edge of Pit Feature

Then I drew the walls (only 31 soil zones… not too bad). Here is a link to a Panorama I tried to make while sitting in the scored unit, the stitching made it look a little weird in places. Sitting in Unit 92.


After closing out the unit I stayed a few extra hours past the end of the day to excavate a few post holes. We’ll be returning to site a few more times in the coming days to finish what wasn’t documented today. Look for updates from Gwynn and Dave in the next week!

Me, shoulder deep in a post hole