Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond

Title: Ancient Fires at Cliff Palace Pond
Year: 2000
Length: 11 minutes
Made by: Voyageur Media Group, Inc.
Genre: Expository
Authors: See the entry for the Adena film.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.15.29 AM

Another movie from the Kentucky Heritage Council. Let’s learn about Kentucky, folks! The USDA Forest Service starts forest fires with drip torches. This is already the most exciting archaeology film I’ve ever seen.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.16.39 AM

I’ve always found the idea of forest management kinda strange. I realize that many (if not most) of the landscapes that we see in North America were managed by Native Americans before our Park Rangers got at them, but the idea of encouraging or discouraging forests to turn out a certain way is still an odd concept. I guess I still have an unhealthy nature/culture divide in my head. Anyway.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.26.47 AM

It’s almost two minutes in before the video mentions the Native Americans. They were building to it. Elder Jerry Wolfe comes on to set the record straight. Every Fall they’d burn the forests so that they don’t get an ocean of fire. Which would be inconvenient.

We segue into Indians-as-Forest-Rangers, complete with chanting. Pesky scientists didn’t know what to do until they actually asked the folks who had been living there a while.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.33.22 AM

I love archaeological illustrations, and this video has several. Just LOOK at that grandpa from ancient history threatening the child with the feather.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.33.30 AM
…aaaaand one slightly sinister baby in a basket.

But wait, what is that I see?? Archaeologist Cecil Ison guiding a group of folks to a cave dwelling! It’s Cliff Palace, and we are set for some learnin’ from a dude with a fantastic handlebar moustache.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 9.59.00 AM

Nice video effects illustrating the rock art after Cecil traces it for us. We also learn that there is a fetid pond up near the rock shelter and that there are extensive archaeological remains around said pond. Why does this matter? Because we can core the pond!

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.21.02 PM

They found seven layers of distinct debris, including pollen. This next photo is for Shanti Morell-Hart, who once described looking through a microscope as traveling through space. Which sounds pretty cool…

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.22.15 PM

….but I’m not sure I buy it.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.24.55 PM

Dr. Paul Delcourt seems down though. Do you like how they framed him with the hallowed halls of academia? He MUST be an expert. Bonus: he has a beard. Anyway, he checks our core samples to see if there is any ash present. Check out the slight azimuth change between Paul Delcourt and Cecil Ison. We’re looking up at Delcourt and down at Ison. Film and photography semioticians would note this as a power differential. Something to think about while you are filming. Anyway, back to the video.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.30.24 PM

Cliff Palace Pond is like a time capsule, we are told. I believe them because this is a good drawing. We are told that Native Americans ate stuff and hunted stuff. Rockin’.Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 12.33.44 PM

Atlatl + beard alert!!

From the dirt core we learn that about 1,000 years ago, Native Americans began farming the land and shaped the forest into what we think of as the “natural” Kentucky landscape, with nuts and berries.

Overall, this would be a good movie to for teachers to show when you are learning about paleoethnobotany or paleo landscapes and landscape management. Or if you feel like you need to know more about changes through time for Native Americans in Kentucky.

Beard Count: 2.5
Women?: 0

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky

Title: The Adena People: Moundbuilders of Kentucky
Year: 2000
Made by: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council.
Location: Kentucky, USA
Genre: Expository
Authors: Voyageur media group Inc. for Kentucky Heritage Council. Voyageur media group is a nonprofit that creates public media about science, history, art and culture. They have several videos about Kentucky archaeology, and I’m guessing I’ll get to watch a few more before I’m finished.



Ohh, dynamic opening title with a rockin’ beat! Artifacts are interesting! Archaeology is great! Then…we segue into flute music and a pot rotating in deepest black space.  Our very authoritative, unnamed male narrator describes the whirling, whirling artifacts and we are awash in pottery! mica! stone! Lovely things, really. They are, we are informed, legacies of the Adena People.

There are burial mounds all over northern Kentucky and we get a fair sampling of them, including two-story tall Gaitskill Mound. The mounds are constructed over the remains of wooden ceremonial structures–there’s a great b/w photo of Crigler Mound showing this very explicitly–postholes, section, oh yeah.



“Some people imagine it’s a Kentucky Stonehenge, or wood henge, with poles.” Hey, who is that guy? White dude with beard, honey of an accent…must be an archaeologist. It’s Dr. Berle Clay, telling us that the geometric earthworks may be where clans met. But he equivocates at the end, saying we don’t really know. Fine.


OH! Ohhh, it’s old footage of the Wright Mound  WPA excavations! A guy in a hat smoking a pipe while he digs, be still my heart! My day has been made. More! More!

LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.
LOOK at that pipe. Just look at it.

Oh, we’re back to arrowheads. And an unnecessary timeline with an overly complex woodgrain background. There’s some nice reconstructions though, and Dr. Clay is back to tell us a few things we know about their funerary ceremonies.

But what is this? Flintknapping, hide-scraping, and making pots–always crowd-pleasers. It’s at a “Living Archaeology” weekend though, and it appears there are some people dressed up as the Adena. Not sure Native Americans are too happy about being called “Living Archaeology.”


Apparently we don’t know a lot about the Adena because they didn’t live next to their mounds and we mostly liked to dig the mounds, as per typical of the archaeologists’ MO. These settlements have probably been destroyed by plowing anyway, we are told.



There’s a female archaeologist troweling! Though she’s voice-less, and filmed from top-down. TELL US WHAT YOU ARE DIGGING! Dr. Clay steps in to provide a general explanation, not really about what looks like a rodent-holed mess that poor young woman was dealing with. A bit disappointing.


Quick shot of a crazy geometrical configuration that archaeologists have excavated for some reason. What is that big cut in the middle? Follow the archaeology?? Why have you pedestalled something that was cutting a surface? Madness. I guess at least the sections are straight.

Overall, a good mix of footage gleaned from archives, an interview from a real-beardy archaeologist, landscape shots, artifacts, experimental archaeology, and excavation. A solid introduction to the Adena, if a bit masculinist and lacking in Native American perspectives.


%d bloggers like this: