Maritime Archeology in Minnesota

A Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant provided by the Legacy Act will fund the excavation and documentation of a portion of the starboard side gunwale of the wreck of the Andy Gibson.   The Andy Gibson was a sternwheel steamer that operated on the Mississippi River between the towns of Aitkin and Grand Rapids.  The data collected from this partially dry excavation will be combined with the preliminary measurements made of the submerged portions of the wreck by Maritime Heritage Minnesota (MHM) in previous seasons.   Maritime Heritage Minnesota is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and when necessary, the excavation of Minnesota’s finite maritime archaeological and historical resources.  Excavation is expected to begin October 15.
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Prehistoric Pottery of Minnesota

For those of you interested in the prehistoric pottery of Minnesota there is a useful online publication compiled by Guy Gibbon at the University of Minnesota, part of the Diagnostic Artifacts in Minnesota Series.  Titled Prehistoric Pottery of Minnesota: A Guide, it provides the defining attributes, chronology, distribution maps, a description, defined types, type sites, and references for a number of wares found in Minnesota.  Most also include good clear photographs of examples.  This is an ongoing project completed by Gibbon and his students, building on Scott Anfinson’s A Handbook of Minnesota Prehistoric Ceramics  published in 1979.  As Gibbon states “Thirty years of subsequent archaeological excavation and research have added new information about the distribution and dating of some ceramic wares, and the presence in the state of still other wares. Prehistoric Pottery of Minnesota: A Guide is one approach to providing an update that accommodates the constant influx of new information into the field of archaeology.”


Excavations at Agate Bay’s Whiskey Row

One of the largest archaeological excavations taking place in Minnesota this past summer was at Whiskey Row on the north side of Agate Bay.  This has been a multi-year project done in advance of the proposed construction of a Safe Harbor and Marina in Two Harbors.  Agate Bay was the precursor settlement to Two Harbors with a notorious district known as Whiskey Row.  Whiskey Row was reported to have consisted of 22 saloons, several hotels, and a smattering of other businesses at its peak in 1883.  In the late 1880s the area was abandoned, leveled and capped to become a coal storage facility.  The wood, then concrete cap has served to protect the remains of this early community from later disturbance creating a time capsule. 
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Minnesota Field Schools

As part of their undergraduate training all archaeologists participate in a field school.  There were five field schools held in Minnesota by various state institutions  this summer.  

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Department of Anthropology held their field school at an historic site in Old Wadena County Park where they continued the investigation of a multi-component site that includes a significant French colonial period fur trade location, and the initial survey of a second reported fur trade site.  They also managed to get in on the Wadena tornado for some added excitement. 

Minnesota State University-Mankato investigated several sites in the Red Wing area, including a couple of sites across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.  Fieldwork included surveys for new sites along Spring Creek and test excavations at sites discovered by the 2006 field school.  One of the sites investigated appears to be a single component Oneota site were students discovered large intact pit features just below the plow zone, indicating that the site has great research potential.

The University of Minnesota Duluth continued excavations at a group of aceramic (without pottery) sites in the Bay View School Forest in Duluth.  Then students headed north to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to do some site survey for the National Forest Service.

St. Cloud State University archaeologists excavated at the Shoemaker site, located on the campus.  Students are studying the community of Lowertown, occupied in the early 1850s by European-Americans who came to St. Cloud from eastern states.  Lowertown homes and businesses were located underneath what is now the SCSU campus area. 

Minnesota State University-Moorhead field school participants were involved in a county-wide survey for archaeological sites in Swift County.  Swift County is located in west central Minnesota.   The county-wide survey is one of the archaeological projects being completed using funds from the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.  The students relocated previously recorded archaeological sites and found a number of previously undocumented sites in the county.

Regional Research – Oneota Mounds

There is an article in the latest issue of the Plains Anthropologist (volume 55, number 214) which offers an explanation for the proliferation of Oneota mound construction at the Blood Run Site in northwestern Iowa.  The article by Collin M. Betts is titled Oneota Mound Construction: An Early Revitalization Movement.  Betts suggests that the renewed emphasis on mound construction by the late seventeenth century Oneota groups was an attempt by these people to mitigate their concerns of cultural survival following a period of population loss as the result of European contact.  Betts posits that the protohistoric mound construction represents an early revitalization movement similar to the later Ghost Dances.  In summarizing the longstanding tradition of mound building by the Oneota the Red Wing Locality in Minnesota is mentioned as an example of early Oneota mound construction.

County Wide Archaeological Surveys

Legacy Amendment funds are being used to fund two county wide archaeological surveys.  The Board overseeing the distribution of legacy amendment funds selected two counties where the nature of the archaeological resources are relatively unknown, Olmsted and Swift Counties.  Olmsted County is located in an area that has had limited study by archaeologists and has been the location for the discovery of two very early sites by non-archaeologists, suggesting that the county might contain information about some of the regions earliest inhabitants.  Swift County has only 15 recorded archaeological sites and there have been no professional archaeological excavations done there.
The consultants doing the survey will revisit known sites, interview collectors and local residents, and do field survey across portions of the counties.  The goal for each of the surveys is to develop a summary of the prehistoric past for each of the counties and develop a narrative model of site locations to help predict where in the landscape sites might be found.  This will allow for the protection of important archaeological sites in areas of rapid development such as near Rochester and also help to better understand the prehistoric cultures in these counties.
A portion of the field work was completed early this summer when crop and field conditions allowed for good surface visibility, but survey is continuing through the summer with the excavation of shovel tests in wooded and grass covered locations.  The survey in Swift County is being done by Minnesota State University Moorhead and The Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center is doing the Olmsted County survey.

Excavations at Ranelius

 In July the Science Museum of Minnesota and Minnesota State University-Mankato excavated at the Ranelius site in Spring Lake Park near Hastings.  The dig was funded by a grant through the Minnesota Historical Society funded by the states Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. 

During the early excavations at Ranelius, over 25 features were discovered. Unfortunately, there are descriptive notes on only 14 of the features.

The work was undertaken to supplement and expand upon research completed at the site in the 1950s by the Science Museum.  Fieldwork was completed by the end of the third week of July.  Ed Fleming, curator of archaeology at the Science Museum has been writing a blog on the project.