Status: Vol. III, Episode 5 (58:00 min); original release 2010

“Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky’s Fields and Streets” examines what archaeologists are learning about the lives of settlers, slaves, laborers and immigrants during the 1800s. This one-hour documentary travels to historic sites across the Commonwealth, blending interviews with video, artifacts, archival photographs and original animation. The documentary is presented in four segments based on archaeological periods: Frontier, Antebellum, Civil War and Industrialization. Each segment features key scientific discoveries made by some of the state’s top archaeologists over the past decade. This program is the fifth episode in The Kentucky Archaeology & Heritage Series, which is produced by Voyageur for the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, a program within the Folk Studies & Anthropology department of Western Kentucky University.


“Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky’s Fields and Streets” was originally broadcast by Kentucky Educational Television in 2010, and continues to be part of KET’s schedule.

Streaming: The documentary is also available on KET’s streaming video service. Click KET – Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky’s Fields and Streets

DVDs: The Kentucky Archaeological Survey sells DVDs of this program at cost. Contact David Pollack (270) 745-2217,


“Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky’s Fields and Streets” was made possible with support from the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, Kentucky Heritage Council, Federal Highway Administration, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Voyageur Media Group, Inc.


Frontier (1770s to 1820s)
Archaeologist Nancy O’Malley describes the role of archival research in efforts to locate hundreds of frontier forts in the Inner Bluegrass region of Kentucky. O’Malley also explains how faunal remains from a hearth at Fort Boonesborough provide a better understanding of the pioneer diet. Additional Sites/InvestigationsMammoth Cave, Edmonson County, and John Arnold Farmstead, Logan County.

Antebellum (1820s-1860s)
Viewers learn about the discovery of a privy at Ashland filled with over 900 ceramic vessels; the reconstruction of Farmington’s slave cabin, how x-marked objects provide insights into slave culture; and surprising conclusions about the people buried in Old Frankfort Cemetery. Additional Sites/Investigations: Ashland Privy; Farmington Slave Cabin, Archaeology and Slave Culture; Old Frankfort Cemetery, Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill; Higbee Tavern.

Civil War (1861-1865)

Archaeologists compare architectural plans of fortifications to actual features in the ground, the life of common soldiers and evidence surrounding a tragedy at the refugee encampment site in Camp Nelson. Additional Sites/Investigations: Battery Hooper, types of Civil War sites.

Industrialization (1860s -1910s)

Archaeologists focus on the lives of immigrant families at Portland Wharf Park. Once a major steamboat port, Portland Wharf vanished due to floods, the expansion of the Louisville-Portland canal and the construction of a floodwall. Today, archaeology is being used to preserve the park and reconnect the community with its past. Additional Sites/Investigations: Old Capitol Square privy, Franklin County; U.S. Marine Hospital, Jefferson County; Covington Riverfront Project, Kenton County.

Educational Resources

The Kentucky Archaeological Survey has created several lesson plans to enhance classroom use of this documentary for Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and its service to PBS Learning Media. KET/PBS Learning Media:

Historic Archaeology: Beneath Kentucky’s Fields and Streets

Social Studies Arts Toolkit: Produced by the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, the Historic Archaeology resource explores new scientific discoveries being made at dozens of historic sites across Kentucky. Interviews with archaeologists are combined with archival images, artifacts, and 3-D animation for a look into the lives of farmers, slaves, soldiers, immigrants, and laborers during the 1800s. Click on the titles below for lesson plans (video clips, learning objects and support materials) now available on the KET/PBS Learning Media website.

Historic Archaeology at Ashland: Artifacts in a Privy

Dr. Kim McBride discusses the discovery and analysis of the artifacts archaeologists found in a privy during an archaeological survey at Ashland, the estate of politician, farmer, and horse breeder Henry Clay in Lexington, Kentucky.  Filled with thousands of artifacts, the privy excavation was remarkable for the number and variety of ceramic vessels it produced: more than 900 in all.


Historic Archaeology at Camp Nelson: Shedding Light on Undocumented Lives

Dr. Stephen McBride discusses how the analysis of food remains and personal items provide insight into the lives of the soldiers and the families of the black enlistees who trained during the Civil War at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, Kentucky. The site was an important Union supply depot, training center for U.S. Colored Troops, and refugee camp for families of African-American enlistees. Today the site is a Civil War Heritage Park. Archaeological research has uncovered artifacts left by the soldiers and their families. Sensitive: This resource contains material that may be sensitive for some students. Teachers should exercise discretion in evaluating whether this resource is suitable for their class.