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The mysteries of the Kanawha Madonna to be explored at free Cultural Center event


(download color photograph here, approximately 450K; photograph by Michael Keller, West Virginia Division of Culture and History)

The West Virginia Humanities Council and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will present a lecture by University of Kentucky professor Dr. James Fenton on Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex. Fenton will discuss his recent archaeological research into the origins of the West Virginia State Museum’s “Kanawha Madonna” artifact. The program is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the presentation.

In 1897, a carved wooden figure of an individual holding a small animal across its chest was reportedly found in a rock shelter in Kanawha County. The context of the find led its discoverers to assign the figure to the prehistoric period—one of the very few wooden artifacts associated with prehistoric Native Americans in West Virginia. Today, the figure is housed at the West Virginia State Museum in the Cultural Center as an example of prehistoric wood carving. As so few wooden effigies survived the European conquest of America (only one other wooden figure is reported from eastern North America), the figure may represent a vestige of prehistoric Native American creativity. Questions remain, however, as to its authenticity, its age, and its cultural significance.

Fenton, who received his doctorate in prehistoric archaeology from Columbia University, has extensive experience in the prehistory of the eastern United States. For more information, contact the Humanities Council at (304) 346-8500 or the Division of Culture and History at (304) 558-0220.

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