Archaeologists to search for new prehistoric sites in Kittson County

By Anna Jauhola
Over the next several months, Kittson County landowners may be contacted to help identify possible archaeological sites.
A Twin Cities firm called In Situ Archaeological Consulting received a statewide survey of historical and archaeological sites project through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy grant program. The survey will focus on Kittson County and Wilkin County, which is at the headwaters of the Red River, because little archaeological work has been done in either county. In Situ will be working with teams of archaeologists from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
“We’re working together to locate new sites that haven’t been found before. The point of this is to try to expand the knowledge of the pre-history of the county,” said Craig Picka, principal investigator at In Situ. “We want to record more and get a better idea of the history to put together a story about the past. So part of (the project) is we’re trying to reach out to local communities, because no one knows the land better than the local landowners.”
Pick and In Situ co-owner Abraham Ledezma are both MSUM archaeology department alums, having studied under Professor George Holley who is consulting on this project.
The survey is only investigatory in nature, they said.
“The goal is to simply find sites, not necessarily do large excavations,” he said. “There could be fear with local landowners that we’re going there to destroy the land or prevent things from happening. No. This is an academic study – preliminary identification of sites.”
In Situ and MSUM will only be recording the locations of possible sites, Picka said.
Ledezma added that most archaeological sites are found when public funds are being used for construction projects, such as a pipeline, transmission lines or wind farms.
Kittson County has a few archaeological sites on the books, including Native American burial mounds south of County State Aid Highway 10 and Lake Bronson State Park. Near this site, in 1976, an archaeologist and his students did a salvage excavation of an inhabited location that was going to be destroyed by the relocation of CSAH 10. This site produced a good story of the people who lived in the area between A.D. 200 and 700.
The lead archaeologist on the 1976 project was Michael Michlovic who will also be a consultant for the archaeological survey. The Red River Valley has been largely studied, so this group plans to focus on possible archaeological sites in the eastern portion of Kittson County. Michlovic is a former MSUM archaeology professor and will work with current professor, and former colleague, George Holley.
“I’ve been consulting with another consultant who is a geomorphologist at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, whose specialty is the Red River Valley,” Holley said. “I’ve worked with him to pick out areas we might want to survey that might yield archaeological sites that would be interesting to tell the story of the area.”
Holley said Kittson County’s unique environmental biome provides for an interesting location where prehistoric people would have converged. The county’s aspen-oak parkland along the glacial beach ridges in the eastern part of the county are of particular interest. This is the type of location where professionals often find inset valleys, which is where rivers break through elevated positions like the beach ridges.
“You have a river coming through that creates a deep enough valley that trees will grow there,” Holley said. “In contrast to the prairie that grows all around it, it’s like an oasis. We want to identify those little oases and study the people who were attracted to it. There are little pockets of interesting areas that provided timber and shelter that attracted people.”
Michlovic said the entire project is important to further identify cultural differences and similarities between early life in the northern and southern portions of the valley. He said Kittson County’s sites will likely be focused in the glacial beach ridge areas where water cuts through and deposits soil. He said buried sites can offer the most information about deep history to allow for radiocarbon dating through items like charcoal in a hearth ring. Michlovic found two such rings during the 1976 excavation.
“They’ll concentrate a good deal on places where rivers or streams are cutting through those beach deposits,” Michlovic said. “We hope they’ll get an idea of where there are archaeological sites across the county and whether there are any archaeological sites that might be buried.”
While there could be buried sites, there is also a good chance of scatterings of artifacts on the surface due to erosion, tilling or other digging. Many people through the years have found arrowheads, bison bones and pottery shards. When boots hit the ground for this project, Holley said the field crew will be walking the land doing shovel testing where they gain permission to do so. This will be a good portion of how the crews will find evidence of possible archaeological sites.
If anyone in the county has found artifacts or believe their land holds an archaeological site, you can contact Picka directly at 952-658-8891 or by email at [email protected]

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