Major archaeological survey is underway in Mower County

Published 4:48 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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The Mower County Historical Society (MCHS) is partnering with Hamline University in St. Paul for a year of archaeological research in Mower County. 

The project, supported by Legacy grant funding, was announced Thursday during an MCHS Lunchbox History event. Two teams from the Hamline University Center for Anthropological Services (HUCAS) are working closely with staff at MCHS to select and examine places in Mower County to search for artifacts and evidence of Native American activities over thousands of years. 

Although 82 archaeological sites are already known to exist in the county, some from the 1940s need to be re-examined. In addition, there may be many more known to local landowners and amateur collectors that would help researchers understand what happened in southern Minnesota over the past 12,000 years. 

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“This area was far more important and had much more Indigenous activity than was previously realized,” said professor Brian Hoffman, co-director of the project. “We hope to build on the recent work at the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry that has drawn a lot of interest among archaeologists and Native American communities. Our purpose is to learn more about what happened here in the thousands of years before modern settlements by using new technologies and Indigenous knowledge of the landscape.” 

Randal J. Forster, executive director of MCHS, has been working with the county’s consulting archaeologist Tom Trow and stone tool expert Dan Wendt for the past four years at the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry. 

“Hamline University has already been doing research with us at the Chert Quarry,” Forster said. “We are very happy to have them as our partner for this county-wide survey. As a result of their work, we will have much more information about Native American history in Mower County available when we open the Chert Quarry site for tours. We will be able to tell more in-depth stories about the quarry.” 

Dave Tennessen, co-director of the survey, pointed out that Hamline’s research involves getting permission from all landowners in advance of being on their property. 

“Fortunately, Tom Trow and Dan Wendt have already paved the way for us, because so many county residents know them and the work they have been doing.” Even after granting permission, Tennessean pointed out, landowners retain the right to any artifacts found in their fields or gardens and can choose whether to keep them, loan them to the project for analysis, or donate them to the local historical society. “Eventually,” Tennessen said. “All of the artifacts that are donated to us for research and the final report on the results of our work from this project will be stored at MCHS in Austin.” 

The Hamline field work will continue into Spring 2025. Anyone interested in contacting the HUCAS survey teams can call the Mower County Historical Society at 507-437-6082.