Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology News
WKU Archaeologist Wins National Award
- Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Dr. Gwynn Henderson, Education Director for the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, is the 2023 recipient of the Society for American Archaeology Distinguished Achievement in Public Archaeology Award. The award is given to an individual who has demonstrated a strong dedication to exemplary public engagement throughout their career.
Public engagement has been at the core of Dr. Henderson’s professional career. Few people have amassed the breadth and depth of accomplishments she has, and her impacts, though centered in Kentucky, extend nationally and internationally. For decades, Dr. Henderson has uplifted multiple communities by validating their heritage, helping them convey their stories, and sharing compelling archaeologically framed insights to the civic, educational, and economic benefit of many publics. And she inspires and mentors other professional archaeologists to do the same.
One way in which Dr. Henderson engages with the public is through educational programming. She has long advocated for archaeology as an effective means to develop key competencies in students of all grades, to develop an educated citizenry, and to promote protection and preservation of cultural resources. The wide-ranging public education initiatives to which Dr. Henderson has contributed – public lectures, classroom visits, workshops, curriculum development, online resources, education networks, artifact exhibits, archaeology days, public service radio announcements, booklet series, video series, articles in Dig! magazine – represent diverse activities that advance public understanding of the wealth of Kentucky’s archaeological resources, their value to Kentuckians, and the reasons they should be preserved. In addition to elementary and secondary teachers and pupils, she has worked extensively with undergraduate and graduate students, scout troops, civic groups, youth groups, environmental educators, docents, heritage site interpreters, and cultural resource managers.
A second component of Dr. Henderson’s public engagement focuses on cultural resources preservation, promoting the protection and preservation of archaeological sites, archaeological knowledge, and other cultural resources. Dr. Henderson developed, initiated, and maintained the Kentucky Archaeological Registry, a landowner-based registry for important archaeological sites on private property. She has promoted the preservation of cultural practices and lifeways for public benefit, especially in collaboration with Native peoples. For example, she recently began a collaboration with members of the Shawnee Tribe that draws on her expertise in archaeological ceramics. The team is connecting Fort Ancient pottery forms and manufacturing techniques to those of contemporary Tribal potters in cultural context, promoting Tribal knowledge and cultural practice and enhancing the public’s understanding of connections among archaeological, historical, and contemporary cultures.
Public service is a third component of Dr. Henderson’s legacy in public archaeology. She is a tireless public servant and is actively recruited for projects and by organizations because of her vast knowledge and experience, wide-reaching public and professional networks, dedication to engagement, and ability to accomplish tasks. She has served multiple terms on the KentuckyNative American Heritage Commission, which works to recognize and promote Native American contributions and influence in Kentucky’s history and culture. She is a long-time member of the Living Archaeology Weekend Steering Committee, which organizes the oldest and largest public archaeology education event in the Commonwealth. Dr. Henderson has been instrumental in the development of dozens of educational materials for this annual event that has served elementary school children and the general public since 1989. Recently she was producer on the first two installments of The Virtual Living Archaeology Weekend Video Series featuring textile demonstrators and she led the development of supporting educational content for teachers, students, and the public.
Founded in 1995, the mission of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey is to provide a service to state and federal agencies, work with private landowners to protect archaeological sites, and educate the public about Kentucky's rich archaeological heritage. The Survey provides hands-on educational experiences to WKU students in the field, the lab, and the community. The award-winning Survey undertakes a variety of projects throughout Kentucky. Some are conducted in advance of construction by state agencies, while others are conducted to identify sites on public lands, so that state and federal agencies can be better stewards. KAS works with local governments and non-profits on diverse initiatives, including educational projects that involve grade-school children and civic groups who participate in ongoing archaeological research. KAS joined the WKU Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology in 2019.
Photo: Dr. Henderson examines the artifacts recovered by Upward Bound students during an archaeology workshop on campus in July 2022. Courtesy Clinton Lewis, Western Kentucky University.
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