An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
...that prehistoric Kentuckians domesticated native Kentucky plants, beginning around 3,000 B.C.? The facts lie in the samples of dirt archaeologists have collected from prehistoric household trash at such diverse sites as shell mounds along the Green River in west-central Kentucky and rockshelters in eastern Kentucky near the Red River Gorge.
How did the archaeologists know what the dirt held? They didn't, until a process called flotation came along in the late 1960s. By washing the dirt samples in a tank of agitating water, facts about the past (light-as-a-feather bits of seeds) floated to the surface.
Under microscopes, archaeobotanists (archaeologists specializing in the study of plants) identified the tiny burned seeds of maygrass, knotweed, goosefoot, marshelder, and sunflower. By comparing their size, shape, and other characteristics to modern examples of the same seeds, they saw the tangible evidence of domestication. Archaeologists named these plants the Eastern Agricultural Complex. The cultivation of starchy- or oily-seeded plants (that look like weeds to us) slowly turned prehistoric Kentuckians into gardeners.
...that most of the "arrowheads" found in fields all across Kentucky are really spearpoints? Native peoples made the first Kentucky spearpoints at the end of the Ice Age, over 12,000 years ago. They began to make true arrowheads only around 1,200 years ago.
Spearpoints are made up of two parts: the blade and the stem. The stem is used to attach the point to a wooden spear. An arrowhead has only one part. It is all blade and is attached directly to the arrow shaft. Arrows are also usually smaller and thinner than spearpoints.
The spearpoint was part of a hunting weapon called the atlatl or spearthrower. An atlatl increased the length of a hunter's forearm. A hunter could throw a spear at about 50 feet/second with an atlatl. This is slower than that of an arrow, but it carried more force. The arrowhead was part of the weapon we know as the bow and arrow. Arrows travel faster that spears, about 150 feet/second, but with less force.
Hunters using an atlatl had to wait for the game to pass. It was most effective in open areas. In contrast, hunters using a bow and arrow could stalk their prey, and the lighter weapon was not hampered by wooded environments. The bow and arrow also is more accurate over longer distances than the atlatl.
...that place is important? That artifacts are not the only things that matter? Archaeologists study the objects (artifacts) that people made and record where they left them (context) to learn about past human lifeways.
Think of a rockshelter that a family lived in 10,000 years ago along the Kentucky River. Through the study of artifacts and their contexts, we can reconstruct how these people lived in the rockshelter, what they ate, the tools they used and how they made them, and much more.
If the rockshelter is looted, even if some of the artifacts remain, we will forever lose the opportunity to learn about how this family lived, because the context has been destroyed.
Because cultural resources are fragile and irreplaceable, we must care for them. Each of us has a responsibility to help preserve and protect the rich cultural heritage of Kentucky for the future.
...that for every hour spent in the field, archaeologists spend four in the lab? Archaeology is not just digging up the things people left behind. It is learning what those things tell us about their lives.
Archaeologists are committed to educating students and the public about archaeology. But involving folks solely in excavation only gives them part of the picture. To get the whole picture, people must learn what is done with the artifacts after they have been taken out of the ground. Teaching them the process of washing and cataloguing artifacts is part of that education. By giving students and the public the chance to experience all aspects of archaeology, KAS hopes that they will gain a better appreciation for Kentucky's rich cultural heritage and the role archaeology plays in understanding and preserving it.