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Archaeo News 

9 October 2005
Dig proves ancient trash is modern-day treasure

One of the most ambitious Missouri Department of Transportation projects this year is exploring the state’s past. In an unprecedented $5 million undertaking, the USA state is paying archaeologists to unearth, inspect, sort and save broken tools, utensils, weapons and scrap rock left behind at Indian settlements along the Mississippi River for some 9,000 years.
     While mostly trash, the materials can help archaeologists trace how generations of Indians lived and moved about in northeast Missouri. "This is one of the richest areas of archaeological resources in the state," said Robert Reeder, historic preservation coordinator for the Missouri Transportation Department” About 20 sites are being excavated over a 15-mile stretch of the road north of Canton, he added.
     Land along the Mississippi is considered a prime area for learning about Indian life. Indians settled there because the river provided transportation, drew game and created an environment for other food, such as fruit trees and nut trees. The U.S. 61 sites have found evidence of early archaic period Indians who lived from 6000 to 8000 BCE, but most items appear to be from woodland period Indians, dating from 1000 BCE to 900 CE, archaeologists said.
     Although the state transportation department has a staff of about 12 archaeologists, the project was so large that the state sought proposals from private archaeological firms to dig the sites. Excavation began in May and could conclude by the end of the year. Each day, about 20 archaeologists the company hired from around the region methodically sift through soil dug from holes about 3 or 4 feet deep.
     The workers screen out broken pieces of old tools and weapons, but mostly find mere flakes of rock left over from making such items. The rock flakes may be mere waste but they help archaeologists tell what Indians were using to make things, how they made them and when Indians moved from one site based on finding part of an item broken and discarded elsewhere. Occasionally, archaeologists dig up arrowheads, pieces of tools such as a stone hatchet and decorated pottery and dishes. The archaeologists are mostly searching areas used as disposal or cooking pits. "What archaeologists do is look at trash, because if people had something that was good and usable they took it with them and used it until it wore out. Trash is where you can find out what people really had," said Lynne Sebastian, past president of the Society for American Archaeology.
     Archaeologists are examining the U.S. 61 items in laboratories and will make a final report to the state of what they found and where they found it, Reeder said.

Source: Kansas City Star (3 October 2005)

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