“WPA Archaeology” examines the economic, scientific and cultural impact of a massive archaeological research program conducted by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression in Kentucky. The half-hour documentary combines interviews, WPA film and photographs and video of artifacts for an introspective look at this important era in the history of Kentucky archaeology.
In Depression-era Kentucky, people needed jobs. Roosevelt's WPA programs did just that, funding hundreds of labor projects - from road construction and forest conservation to cultural programs in music, art and history. In Kentucky, the WPA funded large-scale archaeological excavations, which provided jobs for manual laborers in rural communities. From 1937 to 1941, over 70 archaeological sites were excavated across the state, including rock shelters, shell middens, mounds and villages. The analysis of fieldwork and over 300,000 artifacts greatly added to our scientific knowledge of ancient American Indian cultures.
Under the guidance of Dr. William S. Webb, this WPA project also trained a new generation of archaeologists. John B. Elliott, a WPA project supervisor, describes fieldwork at some of the WPA sites in Kentucky.
This unprecedented archaeological project came at a price. During the mid 1900s, there was little regard for the cultural concerns of American Indians. Many ancient burial mounds were leveled during excavations. Dr. Lathel F. Duffield, former professor of anthropology, University of Kentucky, and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, describes the historical motivations, scientific impact and contemporary legacies of WPA archaeology.
Using examples of artifacts from the state’s WPA collection, the program presents some of the historic findings generated by this research about ancient American Indian cultures. Before radiocarbon dating, WPA archaeology was instrumental in defining the relationship between various cultures in Kentucky. Archived at the University of Kentucky, scholars from all over the world come to Kentucky to study this archaeological collection.
WPA workers pose for a photograph during
excavations at the Wright Mound in
John B. Elliott, WPA Project Supervisor.
Dr. Lathel Duffield.
Madisonville Cordmarked Jar with plain neck
and four large thin strap handles.