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Kentucky Archaeological Survey joins WKU’s Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology


The award-winning Kentucky Archaeological Survey (KAS) joined Western Kentucky University’s Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology on June 1.

For more than two decades, KAS has worked with teachers, students, landowners, communities and government agencies to protect archaeological sites and educate the public about Kentucky’s rich archaeological heritage.

“We are thrilled about working with KAS to provide all Kentuckians opportunities to experience our past through archaeology,” said Dr. Darlene Applegate, archaeologist and head of WKU’s Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology.

The KAS is nationally known for its leadership in public archaeology, she said.

“Having that reputation at Western is going to increase our profile,” Dr. Applegate said. “We expect it’s going to help us recruit students in our program because we’re going to have opportunities here beyond the ones we already offer. We anticipate that WKU is going to be the hub for public archaeology in the state going forward.”

(Left to right): Dr. David Pollack, director of Kentucky Archaeological Society; Eric Schlarb, KAS staff archaeologist; Dr. Jay Stottman, KAS assistant director; and Dr. Darlene Applegate, head of WKU’s Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

Thousands of important indigenous and historic archaeological sites – from villages and earthworks to farmsteads and military encampments – are located on private property and on state and federal lands across the Commonwealth. There is considerable public awareness of and interest in Kentucky archaeology. Citizens and teachers continually request information about the Native Americans who lived in the region for millennia and about the people who settled in what would become Kentucky. Government agencies often request advice from archaeologists about managing sites on their lands.

Both the Department and the Survey have responded to these needs in the past, and are joining forces to continue to do so into the future.

“We are excited about our move to Western Kentucky University, and look forward to collaborating with the Department on new public education initiatives,” said Dr. David Pollack, the Director of the Survey.

As public archaeologists, KAS staff conduct workshops and develop curricula for teachers; provide hands-on field and laboratory experiences for students; and publish booklets, prepare web content, and produce videos for the public on various aspects of Kentucky’s history. Since 1995, more than 150,000 school students have participated in KAS archaeological research at sites such as Riverside: The Farnsley-Moreman Landing in Louisville and Fort Smith in Livingston County.

Dr. Jay Stottman, Assistant Director of the Survey, noted “that these programs provide grade-school children with hands-on experiences they cannot get in the classroom.”

“The opportunity to come to Western makes a huge difference,” he said. “It enables us to continue work we’ve been building the last 20 years.”

From its inception until this May, the Survey was administered by the Kentucky Heritage Council (the State Historic Preservation Office) and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky, and was housed at the University of Kentucky.

KAS videos have a viewership of over two million through public television and The Archaeology Channel. The Survey’s educational outreach has been recognized with over a dozen awards, including the Society for American Archaeology’s 2018 Award for Excellence in Public Archaeology.

Another aspect of the Survey’s educational mission, which it shares with the Department, is providing applied educational experiences to college students. Through KAS projects, WKU students will have additional opportunities to participate in all phases of archaeological research, including fieldwork, artifact cataloging, artifact analysis, and report preparation. They will have more opportunities to work with K-12 school groups and the general public in informal educational contexts through archaeology presentations and demonstrations.

KAS staff archaeologist Eric Schlarb is looking forward to working with students on various projects. “You’re not just learning about a piece of property, you’re learning about people that lived there hundreds or even thousands of years ago and to be able to pass that knowledge onto the students and give them that practical experience, it’s huge,” he said.

Other ways WKU students will contribute to KAS projects include documenting historic architectural remains, creating museum exhibits, conducting ethnographic research, running narrative stages at public outreach events, and contributing to visual media products. Survey staff look forward to exploring ways to collaborate with faculty and students in other departments and colleges, such as with Spanish students on translations of KAS curricula or pamphlets.

“The presence of KAS on campus, and all the unique opportunities it provides for student-centered applied research, is going to help us attract more students to the Hill and train them in new ways,” Applegate said. “Applied work such as what KAS does is a key career option for our graduates in archaeology, historic preservation, cultural resource management and other fields.”

Pollack noted that “as a result of their participation in Survey projects, students have gained the confidence and experience to pursue careers in archaeology.”

The Survey’s advisory outreach involves working with municipalities, state and federal agencies, and private landowners to identify and record archaeological sites on their lands, especially sites that will be impacted by construction projects or ones that agencies want to open to the public. For instance, KAS staff conducted excavations for the City of Bowling Green in advance of the Sixth Street downtown reroute, resulting in the documentation of a historic African-American neighborhood.

KAS investigations at Bell’s Tavern assisted the City of Park City with preserving the site and interpreting it for visitors. Kentuckians often contact the Survey after discoveries of Indian artifacts, abandoned graveyards, or log structures on private and public property.

“Our department has a long record of engaging with diverse communities in the region, such as county cemetery boards and national parks, and KAS will give us another means to reach more audiences, to help our partners find innovative solutions to regional challenges,” Applegate said. “KAS programming will accentuate what we already do to elevate communities and improve the quality of life in our region. In particular, KAS will perfectly compliment the mission of our Kentucky Folklife Program.”

For more than two decades, the Survey has worked with a wide range of individuals, organizations and agencies. KAS staff have partnered with The Capitol City Museum, Shelby County Historical Society, The Henry Clay Estate at Ashland, and other nonprofit organizations. The Survey has collaborated with numerous school districts, scout troops, professional organizations, and other educational and civic groups.

Tribal groups the Survey has partnered with include the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and the Shawnee Tribe. They have worked with the State Nature Preserves Commission, Department of Parks, Office of Military Affairs, Transportation Cabinet, Finance and Administration, Wild Rivers, Fish and Wildlife, and other state agencies. Federal agencies KAS has worked with include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Army Corps of Engineers. The Survey at WKU will maintain and expand its relationships with partners across the Commonwealth.

The projects and educational programming that the Survey undertakes with these partners help to make archaeology and the human past more tangible and relevant to Kentuckians. Dr. A. Gwynn Henderson, the Survey’s education coordinator, said “that after attending a KAS presentation, people can see parallels between their lives and those of people who lived long ago.”

The Survey has been and will continue to be a self-funding unit. Staff salaries, student assistants, projects and educational products are supported by contracts with state and federal agencies, memoranda of agreement with nonprofit organizations, fee-for-service contracts and private contributions.

For more information about the Kentucky Archaeological Survey or the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology at WKU, visit the KAS website, email KAS@wku.edu or call (270) 745-6549.

From Western Kentucky University


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