Sunflowers and Rockshelters: Celebrating Living Archaeology Weekend’s 30th Event

This year’s Kentucky Archaeology Month Poster celebrates the 30th Annual Living Archaeology Weekend Event. This poster pulls together many of the things that represent the history of the event, as well as its mission to foster respect for cultural resources and promote public stewardship of the archaeological record.


Red River Gorge Rockshelter & the Gladie Cabin

 The Red River Gorge has always been home to Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW).

For the first six years of LAW, the program was held in a Gorge rockshelter in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Rockshelters hold some of the most important cultural resources Kentucky has to offer the world.

It is in the Red River Gorge rockshelters that archaeologists find some of the earliest evidence of plant domestication in the Eastern U.S., making Kentucky part of a world hearth of plant domestication. These rockshelters continue to provide important archaeological information for LAW’s educational experiences and demonstrations, but they are also some of the most threatened resources. Concern for their protection and preservation were the impetus for Living Archaeology Weekend’s creation.



Today, the Living Archaeology Weekend event is held at the Gladie Visitor Center, also in the Red River Gorge area. This location has been the event’s home since 1995. The reason for switching from a rockshelter to Gladie was twofold: the rockshelter presented logistic issues (ex. small size, not easily accessible), and the site, which was thought originally to be entirely disturbed, was later found to contain intact deposits, so the event founders did not want to create further disturbance.

When you visit today, native technology and lifeways demonstrations are set along the Gladie Creek floodplain, while the pioneer technology and lifeways demonstrations are located around the Gladie Cabin. The cabin, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, formerly served as a hotel, a post office, and a home before being moved to the Gladie Visitor Center. Visitors can tour the Gladie Cabin during LAW.

Native Americans, Pioneers, and People Today

 One of the objectives of Living Archaeology Weekend is to foster respect and appreciation for Native American and pioneer technologies and lifeways. To build bridges to the past through technology. The images of a Native American man and a pioneer woman represent the ancestors of todays Red River Gorge inhabitants and visitors. These are individuals who lived, played, and worked in the beautiful Red River Gorge that we still get to enjoy today.


The Kentucky Archaeology Month poster also shows modern-day people, interacting and learning at the LAW event. Children represent the hundreds of students who visit Living Archaeology Weekend on our Friday school-day event, and the families and individuals who visit on Saturday when the event is open to the public. A United States Forest Service employee looks on as the children learn about hide-tanning. These employees have been important to the creation and continuation of LAW, and it would not have survived 30 years without their support.


Sunflowers & Hide Tanning

While most people experience Living Archaeology Weekend as the September event, LAW is also a year-round program, providing educational content to teachers and the public through our website. This poster represents the event and its demonstrations, as well as the program and its content through the images of sunflowers and hide tanning.

Sunflowers are important as symbols of Pre-Contact plant domestication, and the content LAW produces related to our “Seeds Changing History” theme and world hearth educational materials. Sunflowers were one of the earliest food crops in this region. The nutritious seeds provided oil, fat, protein, fiber, and many different vitamins and minerals. Pre-contact gardeners selected the largest sunflower seeds to plant from year to year. For this reason, domesticated sunflower seeds are longer and bigger than their wild cousins.

Gorge sites contain some of the earliest and best-preserved evidence of Pre-Contact plant use and domestication in the Eastern Woodlands. In Kentucky, the earliest sunflower seeds date to about 3,300 years ago. They come from a rockshelter site in the Red River Gorge. Archaeologists have recovered domesticated sunflower seeds from other Gorge sites that date to 3,000-1,000 years ago. Like other archaeological sites in the Daniel Boone National Forest, federal laws protect these important places.



The hide tanning image represents both Pre-Contact and pioneer technology and lifeways. Hide tanning even continues into the present among many hunters! This hide tanning image also symbolizes the event demonstrators, who share their knowledge of past technologies to teach students today. Many of the demonstrations provided at LAW are hands-on, allowing for students and the public to learn about these past technologies through participation.


Rock Art

In addition to rockshelters preserving some of the earliest evidence of plant domestication, they hold another important resource for understanding the past: rock art. The turtle motif shown on the Kentucky Archaeology Month poster is based on an engraved petroglyph panel found in Lee County. This petroglyph (an image pecked or incised into a rock face) is the only clear example of a turtle known at Kentucky rock art sites.

This turtle petroglyph represents the many rock art sites in the Gorge, twenty-two of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rock art sites are still being protected today, and through these ongoing efforts, only a few have been demolished or threatened by looters and modern graffiti.



Kentucky Archaeology Month Events

If you are interested in learning more about these different aspects of Living Archaeology Weekend, come visit us this September 22nd at the Gladie Visitors Center! For more information, visit our website or Facebook Event page.

If you would like to know more about other events happening around Kentucky during Kentucky Archaeology Month, hop on over the KAM calendar, hosted by the Kentucky Organization for Professional Archaeologists.


Poster designed by Karen Stevens


Blog compiled by Karen Stevens

on behalf of the Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee