Living Archaeologically in Kentucky

Living Archaeology Weekend

Living Archaeology Weekend (LAW) began in 1989.  Since LAWS birth, they have wanted to provide visitors of all ages to join in their interactive demonstrations portraying American Indian and pioneers, lifeways and technologies.  Helping to foster cultural resource preservation. This is a free event held one weekend each year in the gorgeous Red River Gorge.

Red River Gorge is known nationally as having significant archaeological sites and historic properties all around. For approximately 12,000 years the Red River Gorge has provided shelter, food, and inspiration for all walk of life.

Native American were the first inhabitant but did not have written languages so there are no history books for us to read about their time in the gorge. Archaeology is one of the ways we have been able to learn about their methods of hunting, gathering, and farming.

It is because of the Red River Gorge’s rare geological feature, such as the rock shelters and sandstone cliffs, along with the extreme elevation changes, preservation of ancient artifacts has been possible. It is because of this; LAW has made it their mission to portray stories about past inhabitants of the gorge, and the importance of their roles.

Due to the Red River Gorge’s rock shelter, we have gotten a glimpse into the origin of plant domestication in the eastern United States. With the gorge’s history being virally spread throughout the community, we are able to see our community working together to preserve the history surrounding them.

The objective of Living Archaeology Weekend is to provide, not only students, but adults with the knowledge of conservation of the Gorge. They offer high-quality, multi-sensory, and diverse educational experience for everyone who participates. There are also activities to show the way of life of American Indians and pioneers.

Jump forward to over one century ago when one of the major industries throughout the gorge communities was logging. However, it could not advance too far into the gorge because of the rough topography. That is until the railroad came in with the Dana Lumber Company, and they constructed the famous Nada Tunnel in 1911. It was with the help of railroads people and goods were able to begin traveling out of the Gorge. When you are hiking in the Gorge, you can find evidence of logging trails and roads.

In the mid-1870’s, the small community known as Gladie developed a convergence with the Red River Gorge. Today you can still find the “Gladie Cabin”.  I was assembled in the late 1900s, with a portion of the original cabin still remaining.  The cabin was once used as a post office and other sections of other buildings from the community. Gladie joined the Daniel Boone National Forest in 1987.

The Gorge now has a long history of being a tourist destination.  By the 1920s and 30s road systems and highways were becoming more prevalent, making it easier for travel for recreational purposes. This also opened the door for archaeologists to make their way into the Gorge to begin exploring and excavating.

In the 1960s Slade Interchange on Mountain Parkway opened helping the Gorge to welcome weekend visitors. One of the main attractions are the cliff lines, which lead to a number of rock climbing opportunities. The Red River Gorge has become one of the top 5 rock climbing destinations in the world. Other tourists visit to Gorge to partake in hiking, biking, camping, and just to enjoy the sheer beauty.

In 1966 the US Army Corp wanted to build a dam across the river.  If this would have happened, the Gorge would have flooded, and the artifacts would have been lost. Thankfully, through citizen protest and growing controversy this idea was shut down.  Investigations showed a host of unique and nationally significant prehistoric sites were situated in the Gorge. In 2003 The Red River Gorge District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Due to the growth in tourism, notoriety and age, they Gorge has become a fragile area.  Looters also believe they can steal artifacts they find along their paths. Fortunately, private citizens own 21% of the Gorge and the National Forest Service protects the federal land, many of the resources are protected.

To help educate the population on the cultural legacy, the Forest Service has held our Living Archaeology Weekend annually. One of the Forest Service’s ongoing projects is the “Limits of Acceptable Change” practice. Another group working with LAW is Leave No Trace.  On Saturday, visitors are asked to visit the Leave No Trace demonstration.  It is here they are able to learn hands-on how to preserve natural and cultural resources. Everyone is working together to figure out a plan to safeguard the Gorge’s future. Kentucky would still like to invite tourist into the Gorge, they are doing everything they can to protect the area for another 12,000 years.