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At this field school, students dig into the past - literally

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Posted by
Sarah Imholte
Woodland Archaeology at Spring Lake Field School
Students from the University of Minnesota and Macalester College joined Science Museum archaeology curator, Dr. Ed Fleming, and Macalester's Dr. Scott Legge on a summer archaeology field school experience. All photos by Jessica Hackner.

This summer, the Science Museum’s archaeology team is uncovering more of Minnesota’s ancient stories.

Archaeology curator Dr. Ed Fleming, his colleague Dr. Scott Legge from Macalester College, and a team of up-and-coming archaeology students from Macalester and the University of Minnesota have spent hundreds of hours in the Spring Lake area along the shores of the Mississippi River in the southeast metro. It’s a great place to look for evidence that helps tell the story of Minnesota’s rich Native past.   

The site’s location along the Mississippi River meant it was abundant in plant and animal resources and in close proximity to a throughway for travel, making it a good place for populations of the distant past to settle. We know that the region was significant to the Dakota, who have lived in Minnesota for thousands of years – and to many other communities at various points in its history. Searching for and studying the archaeological evidence at this and other sites in the area helps us explore all kinds of questions: What might the settlements at Spring Lake have looked like? What was life like for the people who lived here, and how did it change over the thousands of years its evidence represents? How far and wide did people living here trade and travel, and with whom did they interact? With this summer’s research, the team hopes to gain some insight into this small window on the past.

After weeks in the field, the team has much to show for their efforts. Fleming and Legge led the students in their first field school experience, instructing them about archaeological survey, careful, systematic excavation practices, and mapping and documenting finds. As they explored, they uncovered stone tools and pottery fragments that they’ll take into the lab to preserve, study, compare, and share with other researchers as they begin to paint a picture of life in Minnesota hundreds – and even thousands – of years ago. And their survey work helped them identify two new sites in the area for future excavations.

But perhaps most importantly, this summer’s field school gave a group of aspiring scientists some real-world experience searching for artifacts and objects from the past in this little pocket of the modern-day city. They walk away with some bug bites and sunburn, bits and pieces of ancient objects that will help us piece together our history, new field work skills, and lots of memories that will shape their future paths as conscientious stewards of the past.

This is just one of several field and lab projects underway this summer in the Science Museum’s Anthropology department. Keep an eye on Plugged In for more information about the cool research that happens in our Science Division every day.

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