Sunday, November 19, 2000

Rock climbers to help with dig

The Associated Press

        RED RIVER GORGE, Ky. — The U.S. Forest Service has enlisted a group of rock climbers to help with an archaeological dig on a historic cliff that has attracted humans for thousands of years.

        The climbers are contributing $10,000 in cash and $7,000 in volunteer labor in what is apparently the first such cooperative effort in the nation.

        The dig began Friday at the base of the cliff, known as Military Wall. The formation is one of many in this area of the Daniel Boone National Forest that lures about 5,000 climbers per year, forest service officials said.

        Humans have been around this part of Kentucky at least 13,000 years, said Cecil Ison, the forest's archaeologist. About 3,000 years ago, people began growing crops near the natural rock shelters of the gorge.

        Shannon Stuart-Smith of Lexington, executive director of the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition, said the overhanging cliffs, many marked with conveniently eroded natural cracks and holes, are considered some of the best and most challenging in the world.

        Because the Forest Service didn't have money to excavate the Military Wall site, it was considering closing the area, which would have blocked out the climbers.

        But the coalition stepped forward and secured a $10,000 grant from the Access Fund, a national organization that works on conservation projects, land acquisitions and climbing policy. The money will allow 10 to 20 climbers to take part in the delicate excavations through the weekend.

        Ms. Stuart-Smith said the project marks the first time the fund has helped pay for an archaeological dig.

        “It fit well with their mission to keep areas open for climbing,” she said.

        The grant pays for University of Kentucky archaeologist David Pollack and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey to conduct the dig. The Forest Service is contributing the time of several of its employees.

        The grant also will pay for a sign that will explain the site's archaeological significance.

        The project is a rescue mission of sorts.

        Johnny Faulkner, a Forest Service archaeological technician, said many ancient shelters were disturbed in the 1960s and 1970s by people illegally digging for artifacts. More recently, the disturbances have come from people camping in the shelters, a practice the Forest Service banned last summer.


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