What We Do
Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) is a free, annual, two-day public outreach event held at the Gladie Visitor Center in the Red River Gorge of the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. One of few public archaeology education programs of its magnitude in Kentucky, LAW offers school children and the general public a variety of educational activities in American Indian and pioneer lifeways, archaeological interpretation, and site preservation.
The program is delivered along the picturesque banks of Gladie Creek and Red River. This nationally recognized program was honored in 2007 with the USFS Southern Region Forest Service Interpreter and Conservation Educator of the Year Award for Program Coordinator Johnny Faulkner’s contributions. In 2014 the event won Preservation Kentucky's Edith S. Bingham Award for Excellence in Preservation Education, and in 2015 the Steering Committee won the Ida Lee Willis Foundation Service to Preservation Award.
LAW began in 1989 as a cooperative undertaking of the U.S. Forest Service, the Red River Historical Society, and the Kentucky Heritage Council. Held in a Gorge rockshelter for the first six years, the program served 200-325 participants and was delivered by 5-11 presenters who demonstrated primitive technologies and gave slide presentations about diverse archaeology topics. The event was funded by the U.S. Forest Service and the Kentucky Heritage Council with an annual budget between $4,000 and $6,000.
Since 1995 LAW has been held at the larger Gladie venue. With substantial increases in funding ($6,000-$25,000) from the U.S. Forest Service and several granting agencies, the event served 2000-3000 participants annually, a ten-fold increase over previous years, with educational programs delivered by 15-18 demonstrators. Budgetary expenditures peaked with the construction of houses and other village architecture using authentic materials and building methods.
The continuation of LAW was threatened in 2006 due to the loss of direct federal funding. That year three organizations signed a memorandum of agreement to work collaboratively in order to save the event. The US Forest Service continues to host the event in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The Kentucky Archaeological Survey (KAS), which is jointly administered by the Kentucky Heritage Council and the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology, has led the development of educational materials for the LAW program. The Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists (KyOPA) oversees fundraising for the event. The Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee is composed of representatives from these three organizations. The steering committee has organized the event since 2007.
The Friday program from 9:00-4:00 is reserved for local elementary school children, whose visits are pre-scheduled for staggered two-hour time blocks. Though most of the children attend public schools, some parochial and home schools are represented. Recently the total number of students in attendance per year ranged from 800 to 1400, plus an additional 100 teachers, aides, and chaperones. While students from the Lexington area regularly attend the event, the service area is predominantly counties in the immediate vicinity of the Gorge, including Bath, Breathitt, Estill, Menifee, Magoffin, Powell, Rowan, and Wolfe.
LAW Steering Committee member Tressa Brown describes the technology and process of brain tanning for preparing deer hides at this popular Living Archaeology Weekend booth. Visitors are invited to help tan the deer hide.
LAW represents one of the few opportunities for educational field trips in the local community. We hope this outdoor classroom experience fosters in these children a sense of pride for their local cultural and natural environment and for their heritage. After all, the Gorge is an archaeological district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Gladie Cabin is also listed on the National Register. In the recent past, both fourth and fifth graders comprised the target audience; the content of LAW requires academic skills and capacities expected of older elementary school children, and the program content dovetails nicely with Kentucky Academic Standards state curriculum core content. In order to control the number of visitors, since 2007 only fifth-graders were invited to attend the event in association with the Native American Studies curriculum unit covered in the fall term.
The Saturday program from 10:00-5:00 is open to the general public. The long history of the event, coupled with the incredible popularity of the Red River Gorge, ensure bumper crops of general public participants every year, ranging from 1000 to 1500 general public visitors annually. From toddlers to grandparents, people of all ages are attracted to the event. Many visitors are from Kentucky and surrounding states, though states across the country often are represented. Some visitors are destination tourists who come to the Gorge specifically for this event. Others are incidental or opportunistic visitors who were in the vicinity for another primary purpose (e.g., camping, hiking, climbing, fishing) but choose to attend the event while visiting the Gorge.
FOR A DEEP DIVE
If you would like to take a deeper dive into Living Archaeology Weekend -- if you would like learn more about what is involved in putting on a public archaeology event like this -- then we invite you to read a book chapter that the LAW Steering Committee published in 2018. Just click the image at right of the book cover to download a pdf of the chapter, which is written in English! (22 MB file)
The article describes the program's educational goals and conceptual underpinnings, outlines its development, and identifies its component parts, paying particular attention to how LAW compares to archaeology fairs. We discuss the educational effectiveness of the event and consider the major factors that have contributed to our longevity and success. We offer specific suggestions about how to develop a program of this type.