Archaeology for the People
Perspectives from the Joukowsky Institute – Remembering Slack Farm
A. Gwynn Henderson, PhD
It’s been nearly 28 years since the lives of my husband and myself were irrevocably changed by what has euphemistically been referred to as “the Slack Farm Incident.” Before, during, and – for several years after fieldwork ended at that looted ancient Native American village site in Union County, Kentucky – our lives were consumed by Slack Farm. At the height of fieldwork, we couldn’t open a local newspaper without seeing an article about Slack Farm. We couldn’t talk to anyone, once they discovered we were involved with the project, without being grilled. What was new in the case?
Had the looters been sent to jail yet? What kinds of artifacts had we found What were the Indians doing? How can I help? Everything about Slack Farm broke the mold. The diversity of circumstances, people, and events surrounding the looting, the resultant archaeological study, and the subsequent outcomes set that project apart from all the others I have been involved in, before or since, over the course of my over 40-year-long archaeological career. In the extent of the looters’ damage. In the involvement of lawyers and police. In the response by Native peoples to the grave desecration.
In the amount of public involvement to right the wrong. In the site’s visibility in the media. And especially, in the project’s long-lasting impact on archaeology and on heritage law: the information it produced about ancient Native farming peoples, the repercussions it set in motion, and the legacies it left behind. From start to finish, my husband and a good friend were co-directors of the project, and close friends were members of the field crew. As for me, to have witnessed the destruction first-hand and to have been involved in so many aspects of the project: that was life-changing.
The Slack Farm Incident began with a phone call in November 1987. But in truth, it had begun decades earlier, when a childhood hobby turned from passion to obsession.