Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

A Legacy Beneath the Land: Statewide Surveys

Dr. Michlovic examining artifacts found during the survey.

It’s been well over a century since explorers mapped out the land now known as Minnesota. What hasn’t been sketched yet is a complete picture of what lies beneath our land.

“The view we have right now of the first 10,000 years of human history in Minnesota is like looking through a keyhole and trying to see the whole room,” said Pat Emerson, Head of Archaeology for the Minnesota Historical Society. “We’re just seeing a little bit of it.”

With $500,000 in Arts and Cultural Heritage funds, that is beginning to change. The ACHF is funding surveys of sites around the state that are historically, archaeologically and culturally significant.

“It’s allowing us to open the door a little bit,” Emerson said.

It’s opening the door on areas like Swift County and the upper Minnesota River Valley.

“We know so little about ancient times in that part of the state,” said Dr. Michael Michlovic, an archaeology professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM).

Michlovic and his team were awarded almost $69,000 to conduct an archaeological survey of Swift County. Before the survey began, Michlovic said it was hard to talk about ancient times in that area. Only about a dozen archaeological sites in the county had ever been identified.

Over the spring and summer of 2010, Michlovic and his team discovered over 40 more.

The team got permission from local farmers to comb plowed fields for artifacts. They focused on land near lakes and rivers. They found ancient shards of pottery and also spear points and arrowheads dating back 3,000 to 5,000 years.

“This is about the only way we can reach back to the past and learn something,” Michlovic said.

Michlovic’s team included 10 undergraduate students from MSUM; students who gained practical skills and valuable work experience while working on the survey.

“The students had a great time and they learned so much,” Michlovic said.

The survey team now believes that the people who lived on or near those Swift County farms thousands of years ago may have been an isolated group. The team did not turn up evidence of much outside influence or materials that would have come from other places.

That knowledge has opened the door a little wider for Minnesotans who want to know who was here before us. The survey’s findings will be presented in an exhibit at the Swift County Historical Museum in Benson.

But there is much more to learn. And today’s explorers are eager to continue.

“The longer we leave the archaeological record unrecorded, the more likely it will be destroyed,” Michlovic said. “Archaeological sites don’t last forever. Learn it or lose it.”

See Project Details.

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.