Team Of UK Archaelogists Digging Into Shaker Village's Distant Past

Mar 5, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Geological Survey's Mike Lynch is back with his series of What Lies Beneath Us reports.  This one examines important archeological work going on at nearby Shaker Village.

Visitors to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill usually come for a relaxing stroll among the restored buildings and to experience the songs, dances, and other practices of the people who built the 19th-Century community in Mercer County, Kentucky.          

But behind a white fence near the main entrance, fourteen University of Kentucky students, a professor of anthropology, and her assistant work (busily) to dig  trenches and carefully sift the dirt through screens, looking for more of the original Shaker Village…if only in tiny bits and pieces.

Prof. Kim McBride and one of her students were talking about a tiny chip of a plate the student came across while sifting the excavated dirt.

The students are taking a field class on archaeological methods, to develop skills like recognizing and collecting artifacts—buttons, glass shards, and porcelain chips—as they excavate the remnants of a meeting house destroyed by fire in 1839.          

Student Cassie Simpson, of Fairfield, Ky., says cataloging the items found is complicated by how the Shakers used this particular field.

The conditions of this site, including a nearby spring and a creek, drew humans here long before Shaker times. And McBride says much more ancient artifacts are also being found.

The Shakers called themselves the Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing; they were known for their orderly life, their re-use of building materials from abandoned or burned structures, and for keeping careful records of their activities.          

All of that helps in the selection of places to dig for artifacts at this, the largest restored Shaker Village. McBride says it’s a great place to bring students interested in studying the past, and an important site to continue exploring.

The bell may have tolled for the builders of this Shaker community, and most of their original buildings may have disappeared, but there are still vestiges here—hidden in the soil—of the Shakers ....and of the people who occupied the land before they did.

One tiny piece at a time, the UK students are helping to shed some light on their way of life in this community.