Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Legacy-funded Archaeological Surveys Find and Save Important Sites

Paleo-indian projectile point

A paleo-indian projectile point found during the survey of
Steele Co., estimated to be 10,000 years old (photo courtesy
Amanda Gronhovd)

“We want to bring the landscape to the people.”
~ Amanda Gronhovd of 10,000 Lakes Archaeology

Amanda Gronhovd is one of many archaeologists around the state working to enrich our knowledge of those who lived here in the distant past.

With Arts and Cultural Heritage funding, the Minnesota Historical Society, the Office of the State Archaeologist and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council are awarding and overseeing archaeological survey projects around the state. Some studies examine the recent past, while others research information from much older eras. The surveys shed light on how people have lived in our state, reveal trade relations among people across North America, and they could help protect sites that haven’t yet been discovered.

For instance, in fiscal year 2012, surveys of McLeod and Steele Counties looked for evidence of settlement before contact began between Europeans and American Indians. These surveys discovered more than two dozen previously unknown archaeological sites, including one from more than 10,000 years ago.

The process of surveying these counties brings together private businesses and public agencies, and requires knowledge not only of the region’s ancient history but more recent developments as well. Bolton & Menk, a local firm that works with the government and private businesses on historic preservation, surveyed McLeod County. During the late-nineteenth century, much of McLeod County was drained of its wetlands. Using data from that era and with the help of geographers at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Bolton & Menk was able to predict areas where pre-contact peoples may have lived. For instance, people were more likely to settle where two rivers met or a river met a lake.

30 Number of known archaeological sites in McLeod County. Before this survey was conducted, there were only 13.

Much of Steele County too was formerly a wetland, and also like McLeod County is now mostly devoted to agriculture. Looking at recently tilled soil, archaeologists in both counties were able to discover evidence of stone tools and other markings of ancient settlement. In Steele County, Gronhovd discovered goods made in the east and west of the region, which indicated trading relations across a wide area.

Archaeological surveys are important as well because they help researchers develop predictive software to find more archaeological sites. Identifying sites is the first step to making sure development doesn’t inadvertently destroy valuable finds and it’s an important step in uncovering who lived here before us and the buried legacy they left behind.