Trailin': August is Iowa Archeology Month

Posted 8/12/99

A dredging project that has been going on over the past several years in northwest Iowa has turned…

By Tina Turney

A dredging project that has been going on over the past several years in …

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Trailin': August is Iowa Archeology Month


A dredging project that has been going on over the past several years in northwest Iowa has turned…

By Tina Turney

A dredging project that has been going on over the past several years in northwest Iowa has turned up a huge variety of ancient artifacts unequaled anywhere in Iowa.

The site is at Five Island Lake, four miles north Emmetsberg near Spencer. An amateur collector, Bill Henry from Emmetsberg has collected artifacts in the area all his life. So when the dredging of the lake began he was on hand, anxious to see what came out of the discharge pipe. The water and silt were being dumped onto a farm field where Henry would visit every day.

He came out with buckets of artifacts and figured he was able to retrieve only a fraction of what was actually there. The items ranged from fossilized bone harpoon-type points and antler awls to flint scrapers and blades. Many of the stone Clovis-style spear points and knives are dated from the Paleo-Indian period which makes them about 10,500 to 13,000 years old. Other items recovered have been identified as bison bones and teeth and elk antler and bones, as well as other mammal and fossil materials all of which were in an excellent state of preservation.

According to Henry, the objects were in remarkably good shape considering the route they had taken through the egg-beater-like dredge bit, pump, and mile-long 12-inch pipe which led to the farm field where they were deposited.

According to state archeologists this exciting discovery will continue to be studied “as the initial investigation suggests they were sites that are now underwater.”

This is by far the largest single discovery of artifacts left behind by Iowa’s first inhabitants. Previously the largest cache of artifacts was found in Cedar County which also contained some Clovis-type projectile points.

I had the chance to visit the Toolesboro Indiana Mounds located off I99 in Louisa County earlier this summer.

This site consists of at least seven burial mounds; two of them are clearly visible from the visitors center.

These mounds were believed to have been constructed by the Hopewell People between 100 BC and AD 200. There also is evidence that later groups of people, including the Oneonta, occupied the site.

Unfortunately, early settlers to the area destroyed some of the mounds and removed artifacts and human remains without realizing the significance of them. Early archeologists from the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences continued to excavate and in doing so damaged many of the artifacts.

In 1963 the family of George H. Mosier donated the land where the mounds are located to the State of Iowa and the site then became a state preserve. The visitor center is undergoing major renovation at this time.

The question arises, “What is the position of Native Americans concerning archeology today?”

In 1990 the American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed which required the return of sacred artifacts and skeletal remains from museums and institutions to their appropriate tribes. There has been a shift in modern archeology in that the attitudes and concerns of Native Americans are being recognized.

Some archeologists believe the reburial of ancient remains is a great loss to the understanding of the past. And some are supporting the cooperation with Native Americans as an advantage in obtaining a more complete and accurate story of the past.

In general, Native Americans and archeologists look at the past in a different light. Archeologists use the artifacts to document what the ancient cultures were like and the fact that they existed, while many Native Americans believe their ancestral sites are alive and continue to be inhabited by their early ancestors.

In order to understand and study the past, cooperation between archeologists and Native Americans must take place. This is an extremely sensitive and complex issue. According to Dr. Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa, one area both groups agree upon is the preservation of important cultural sites. And Native American spokesman Roger Echo-Hawk is hopeful that long-term relationships will develop when both groups can view each other is having legitimate interests and contributions.

The State Archeologists Office has received a grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa to produce a video entitled “Modern Methods in Iowa Archeology.” This video, produced in cooperation with the University of Iowa Video Center, will be used at sites such as Plum Grove in Iowa City and the Toolesboro Mounds. The video features all the newest methods of non-destructive field and laboratory research. This video will provide a useful educational tool for the Iowa State Archeology Chapters throughout the state as well as other organizations and groups interested in the preservation of Iowa’s past.

To obtain more information about the variety of special events being held during Iowa Archeology Month you can contact Lynn Alex at the Office of the State Archeologist in Iowa City at 319-384-0561 or e-mail at .

Effigy Mounds National Monument is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a special Birthday Celebration planned for August 14th. The party will include special archeology presentations, displays and speakers and live music throughout the day. Information on this event can be obtained by calling 319-873-3491 or on their Web site at