DNR dig reveals local finds
Imagine a time when there were no permanent roads or buildings; when the marshes were teeming with wildlife, bison roamed in the prairies nearby, and tribes of people lived out their lives. This sets the scene for what DNR archaeologists found at the fish hatchery in Glenwood last summer. On Sept. 17, curious community members gathered to hear a presentation given by Mike Magner, the lead archaeologist on the excavation site.
The decision to demolish the 1904 superintendent house for the hatchery came at Magner quickly, who had to work fast to beat the construction schedule. Taking note of where previous construction had taken place, Magner was worried that the building of the original house and parking lot might have disturbed the original deposit soil underneath, which is where archaeological artifacts can be found.
“The location of archaeological sites are pretty predictable,” Magner said. A place where people could have access to water, a food source, a high spot for a summer breeze to keep cool, and even an aesthetic area to enjoy the scenery are just a few of the things that indicate where artifacts, or even remains, might be. The hill where the hatchery house stood was a prime location.
In order to figure out if there were artifacts in the area, Magner and fellow archaeologist Stacy Allen conducted shovel tests—a hole about a foot and a half across. Holes dug where the new parking lot would be didn’t turn up any artifacts, but holes near the house and a little further down the hill did. Manger and Allen then turned to larger holes measuring 1 meter by 2 meters.
They ended up finding quite a bit by the time they were done digging. A total of 23 meters of area was dug out, and in those 23 meters, they found 1,143 lithic items (stone), 1,737 ceramic shards, and approximately 12,000 faunal specimens (bones). The plains and forest tribe cultures were both represented in the artifacts, which Magner said would make sense since this area is at the edge of both regions.
The stone items were mainly tools and arrowheads, some dating to about 3,000 years ago. Magner said it is usually hard to tell where arrowheads and tools come from because they are a necessary tool, and there aren’t many variations across tribes. However, by looking at the type of stone each tool is made of, archaeologists can make educated guesses on where the tools came from.
Ceramic pieces are sometimes easier to identify because they have decorative components specific to certain regions. Aspects like bowl shape, decorative edging, and materials used to decorate the pottery can pinpoint where the artifact could have come from. Having other, similar artifacts in the region in question usually cements speculation on location of pottery. The ceramic shards found dated back to possibly 1,500 years ago.
Luckily, there were no human remains found during the excavation. Had there been, it could have become a lengthy process to remove and relocate the remains. The types of bones found consisted of fish, birds, turtles, bison and even a possible bear tooth. The amount of fish bones was prolific, and some of the vertebrae were quite large. Magner was surprised to find bird bones because they are so light and can be crushed easily. Pieces of turtle shell were found, and the bison bones found consisted of lots of knuckles and teeth. The bear tooth however, was not expected. Magner speculated that it might have been a ceremonial item or a gift and was dropped or left at the site, but there would be no way to tell why.
“It looks like people were camping on that hill as far back as 3,000 years ago and probably up until at least 800 years,” Magner said. “Its really nice that we got the opportunity to get out there before they tore it all up.”