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Living Archaeology Weekend at Red River Gorge

Kentuckians learn about the lives of people who lived on this land centuries ago through the Living Archaeology Weekend at Red River Gorge. It’s an eye-opening experience for visitors who get to see artifacts and traditions from ancient cultures up close.

“What I would like people to come away with from their experience at Living Archaeology Weekend is an understanding of the diverse ways to be human,” says Gwynn Henderson of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey. “A lot of times people think that if technology is simple, the people are simple-minded. The challenges of human life now or in the past are complementary and the technology that they used is just as complex in its own way as the technology we use.”

Living Archaeology Weekend accomplishes this goal by making that technology come to life for participants.

“We have expert demonstrators who illustrate the technologies and the lifeways that prehistoric native peoples and historic pioneer peoples used while making a living here in the gorge,” says Darlene Applegate of the Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists. This includes specialists in pottery making, textiles, and more.

“It’s really a unique experience to be sitting there with the materials that people used in the past,” says Christina Pappas, an archaeologist and demonstrator of prehistoric textiles. “To be processing it and working with it and making new slippers or new bags or new mats in the place where they probably did that for time immemorial. And to kind of have that connection, and to sit there and say to people, this is a replica of a slipper that was found in a rock shelter just up the road.”

Connecting Kentuckians with the local past is also an important goal of Living Archaeology Weekend. When the event was first held in 1989, there had been problems with people coming to the Red River Gorge area and illegally digging in archaeological sites, looting the artifacts and destroying the integrity of the sites. By inviting local fifth graders to the Gorge to learn about the importance of this history, the organizers hope to instill a sense of healthy curiosity and respect.

“They hear about history writ large like at the world or national or even the state level,” says Tessa Brown of the Living Archaeology Weekend steering committee. “They need to know that really important history happened right where they are. Because we have this event in the Gorge and because we’re talking about the archaeology that was done here and connecting people with their deep history, it makes a difference.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2416, which originally aired on May 11, 2019. Watch the full episode here.