Living Archaeology Weekend 2020 – Building Bridges to the Past, Virtually

By A. Gwynn Henderson, for the Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee

For many years, the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists, and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey have collaborated to present Living Archaeology Weekend (www.livingarchaeologyweekend.org), the longest-running public education event in Kentucky at the Gladie Visitor Center in the Red River Gorge.

Now in its 32nd year, Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) builds bridges to the past through technology. The free, two-day program offers high-quality educational experiences for 5th-grade students (Friday) and the public (Saturday) in the form of demonstrations and hands-on activities. The focus is on American Indian and Pioneer technologies and the archaeological evidence linked to those technologies.

Living Archaeology Weekend 2020

Like always, LAW was on track to take place in 2020. And then…

The coronavirus appeared – a virgin soil epidemic, a pandemic, caused by a respiratory virus. Kentucky’s first pandemic, The Smallpox Pandemic, occurred over 300 years ago, when Native peoples called Kentucky home. It, too, was caused by a virus, spread by face-to-face contact.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it became quite clear to the Steering Committee at our first 2020 planning meeting that holding Living Archaeology Weekend would not be possible in its usual format: over 1000 visitors a day; up close and personal hands-on learning experiences. It wouldn’t be safe. 

And the succeeding months have only validated our decision.

But we couldn’t leave the teachers in the lurch – so many have come to depend on the event as part of their curricula. We couldn’t leave the public in the lurch – so many come every year to see new demonstrations, and to touch base with long-time demonstrators they see at the event. We couldn’t leave the demonstrators in the lurch – with so many events drying up, events many of them depend on for their livelihoods, we had to do something to help them. Without them, there would BE no Living Archaeology Weekend. 

What to Do? – Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend 2020!

For many years, the Steering Committee has talked about preparing short videos about the event’s various demonstrations to extend the reach of the event, and to offer an option to those who could not attend the event, but were still interested in learning seeing what it was all about. The pandemic has offered the Committee an opportunity to pursue its long-held dream. Thus was Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend 2020 born!

Recording of our Virtual Video Series on Textiles. Photo courtesy of Wayna Adams.

Three Elements

Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend has three elements.

Virtual Video Series Pilot: In consultation with Voyageur Media Group, Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio and our LAW education consultant, the Committee chose Textiles as the theme to pilot for our new series: The Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend Video Series.  This theme allows us to use readily accessible resources (people, supplies, imagery) and highlight curriculum content on our website already aligned to Kentucky’s Academic Standards.

Voyageur Media Group is producing and directing the first two 15-minute episodes: one about American Indian textiles with LAW demonstrators Christina Pappas and Choogie Kingfisher, and one about Pioneer textiles with LAW demonstrator JoAnn Oborski. Field interviews and taping are completed. Both programs are in script development and a rough cut of the first episode is in production at this writing.

The content we have already developed for textiles caters to our expedited video production schedule. Voyageur Media Group expects to have the first episode ready for premiere in mid-October through our website. Lessons highlighting the parallels in the two textile traditions will be developed to accompany the two episodes in a format appropriate for the PBS LearningMedia platform accessible through KET.

More recording for our Textiles Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend. Photo courtesy of Wayna Adams.

Redesigned LAW Web Site: Although the current LAW website is still active (www.livingarchaeologyweekend.org), the LAW web site redesign is well underway! Not only is it fresh and modern looking, it is designed for use on mobile devices. This year, we are concentrating on offering selected educational materials from our vast library, starting with the most recently developed and updated materials.

Also this year, we are inviting LAW demonstrators to refresh and expand their pages by sharing updated biographical information and adding more images.

Virtual Classroom Visits: In collaboration with interested LAW demonstrators and Kentucky archaeologists, Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend will be offering a program of themed virtual classroom visits/general public presentations via video chat platforms. These will begin in October and November and, depending on the level of interest, into the spring of 2021. The Chats Calendar and instructions for sign-up will be on our website. Watch our website and the Living Archaeology Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LivingArchaeologyWeekend) for announcements in the next weeks.

For schools, the Steering Committee plans to offer a set schedule of 30-minute virtual visits/chats with demonstrators or archaeologists targeting specific themes aligned with the technologies demonstrated at LAW. These chats will highlight the speaker’s knowledge and expertise.

A LAW Steering Committee member will serve as the emcee, introducing the speaker, who will then give a brief presentation about his/her technology. The final minutes, again facilitated by the LAW Steering Committee member, will consist of a question and answer session. For the general public, the virtual visits/chats will be 15 minutes longer.

And Then, There is This….

The Steering Committee has been very fortunate this year to have received funding specifically for the production and development of The Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend Video Series. This includes support from the National Endowment for the Humanities/Kentucky Humanities, the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Preservation Kentucky, and the USDA Forest Service, Southern Region.

The Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee invites you to view The Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend Video Series: Episodes 1 and 2 when they are finished in October. We will announce their premieres through the LAW Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LivingArchaeologyWeekend) and website (www.livingarchaeologyweekend.org). We are very excited to grow our successful event and programming.

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