Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Features

July 5, 2014

Digging for history

WKU students part of archaeological project in Hart County

A blue canopy provided shade for Western Kentucky University archaeology students this week as they carefully scraped red clay dirt away from artifacts.

The students were participating in an excavation project at a historic house, commonly known as the Gardner house, in southwestern Hart County near Mammoth Cave National Park. The land the house sits on is owned by WKU and trespassing is prohibited.

Melissa Hawkins, a Glasgow senior, is one of the students who worked on the project, which she said has been a lot of work.

“It's been a lot of fun though,” she said.

The students have spent four weeks at the excavation site. One of their goals with the project is to determine when the one-and-a-half story house was built.

“The time range that different people cite is any where between the 1790s to the 1830s,” said Dr. Darlene Applegate, an associate anthropology professor at WKU.

Applegate believes the house was built in 1796 or soon afterward by Thomas Coats, due to some of the things the students have found as they excavate the area around the house.

“Some of the window glass we are getting from excavations is really thin and some of the ceramics are the older type of ceramics that you might find associated with an earlier time frame,” she said. “and the person, I think, who built the house, his father bought property over here in 1796.”

The students were excavating the kiln was used to fire bricks to build the house. It was a common practice in the 1790s for families to make their own bricks when building houses, because there were no established brickyards in the area at that time, she said.

The kilns were temporary. Once families made enough bricks for whatever structure they were building, the kilns were demolished.

“We are getting the basal layers of the bricks they didn't take,” Applegate said.

This summer is the second time WKU archeology students have worked to excavate the kiln, but it is the third time students have participated in excavations on the property.

“When they bought this property, one of the provisions of getting the funding is that they have to do an archaeological survey,” Applegate said. “I've been out here working for over 10 years on the different properties when they buy the tracts (of land).”

Hawkins, along with Lauren Kenny, a WKU graduate of Glasgow, unearthed a layer of bricks on Monday they thought were once part of the kiln.

“We are thinking it's either going to be part of the wall of the kiln or one of the benches for the kiln,” Kenny said. 

Both Kenny and Hawkins are interested in careers related to archeology.

“I kind of want to basically go into criminology to be a part of maybe helping to solve old murders,” said Hawkins.

Kenny is considering forensic anthropology or forensic archeology.

“This kind of work is a little bit out of our realm of expertise, I guess,” Kenny said. “We are more like bones and skeletal remains, so this is just extra experience for us.”

Even though they neither aspire to be archaeologists in the typical sense, their involvement in the project gives them experience using tools and equipment, as well as learning how to do mapping.

“This is just good practice for us,” Kenny said.

When the archaeology project is complete, information gleaned from it will be shared with the public.

“I know the Hart County residents are very interested in the Gardner house and answering some of the questions about it,” Applegate said.

She also plans to write papers about the project for other archaeologists.

“Our folks will be interested in the story about the local settlement here,” said Ken Kern, compliance officer for Mammoth Cave.

WKU folklore graduate students are working under the direction of Dr. Michael Ann Williams to restore the house and have repointed the brick and done some plastering inside, as well as painting and making some repairs.

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