Nestled in the Daniel Boone National Forest, past the Nada Tunnel and countless scenic hikes, lies a landscape with deep history. It is here that, for 29 years, students and the public have gathered annually in the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky, with its many unique cultural and natural resources, to learn about Native American and pioneer lifeways during Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW).
What is Living Archaeology Weekend?
Living Archaeology Weekend is Kentucky’s longest continuously running archaeology education event, and it is the cornerstone of Kentucky Archaeology Month. On Friday (September 15), pre-registered fifth-grade and homeschool children from eastern Kentucky and beyond will experience LAW’s educational demonstrations. On Saturday (September 16), the free event is open to the public. Please come visit!
Living Archaeology Weekend began in 1989 as a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service, the Red River Historical Society, and the Kentucky Heritage Council. For the first six years, it was held in a rockshelter in The Gorge. The annual event served over 200 participants with up to 11 demonstrators showing diverse Native technologies. In 1995, the event moved to the Gladie Area, where it is still held today. This move allowed for greater accessibility and a larger space, permitting LAW to grow. Today, LAW serves 2000-3000 participants annually, with demonstrations delivered by knowledgeable presenters. This year you can expect to see over 25 demonstrations and educational booths!
In 2006, the loss of direct federal funding threatened the event’s continuation. Three organizations (the U.S. Forest Service, the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, and the Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists) stepped up to take over event planning and continue to organize it today. Through the years, LAW has served a total of over 35,000 students, teachers, families, tourists, and civic groups. Some of the original student participants are now old enough to bring their own children to the event.
Over the years, LAW’s emphasis has not waivered: to foster stewardship and conservation of The Gorge’s important and unique cultural resources by providing educational opportunities that show “living” American Indian and pioneer technologies and lifeways. The Living Archaeology Weekend program encourages participants to discover the significance of objects, and through them, to realize the connections they have to people long ago. The event offers visitors an opportunity to reflect on the similarities all humans share.
What will I see at LAW on September 16th?
Each year, Living Archaeology Weekend offers a wide array of demonstrations showing parallel Native and pioneer technologies and lifeways. Archaeological research in and around The Gorge is the basis for much of what we know about these groups.
Come visit the Native Technology side to see demonstrations of Native foodways, tools and weaponry, and entertainment and artistic expression. At the foodways stations, visitors learn about wild and domesticated food sources, cultivation and harvesting, and see open-fire, hot rock and earth oven cooking. Several stations show how plants were used by American Indians in many different ways: medicinally, for textiles, and even for building structures!
At some stations, skilled craftspeople demonstrate how Native Americans made and used their tools, like pump-drills and stone axes. At others, visitors can try their hand at hitting a target with a spear using an atlatl, or view deer hide processing. Visitors can also expect to see presentations on marbles and the game of stickball – examples of Cherokee recreational activities.
Parallel technologies and lifeways are demonstrated on the Pioneer side of the venue. Here foodways stations focus on the importance of corn and beans. Hungry? Have a cup of soup beans prepared as pioneers would have! Other plant uses also are shown with craft demonstrations of cornhusk dolls, spinning, and weaving. Want to learn about tools and firearms? Step over to the blacksmith and longhunter stations. We also will have Appalachian cultural entertainment with traditional mountain music.
To learn more about our demonstrators and what they do, visit the Demonstrators page on our website.
Celebrating Kentucky’s First Family
Each year, the LAW planners select a theme for the event’s t-shirt design and offer theshirts for sale as a lasting memento. Last year, LAW celebrated The Three Sisters crops (corn, beans, and squash). This year, LAW is celebrating Kentucky’s First Family, a group of PaleoAmericans who called this place home over 11,000 years ago. As such, we invite Kentucky’s 21st century families to come see how families of the past lived in the Red River Gorge!
By: LAW Steering Committee