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8 October 2010
Prehistoric settlements on the Mississippi

A team of archeologists from the Science Museum of Minnesota uncovered more evidence this summer of prehistoric settlements at a park near Hastings (Minnesota, USA). "We know people were traveling through," said team leader Ed Fleming. "It's a story of the Mississippi river being used for transportation and for commerce."
     In the '50s, local boy Ken Klink piqued the curiosity of archeologists when he began showing them the artifacts he collected in the area. The Science Museum excavated and documented a number of sites but never fully completed work on one parcel known as the 'Ranelius Site.' A collection of artifacts was preserved by the museum, but that was it.
     "We've always sort of wondered about the Ranelius site," Fleming said. And so, in July, with grant funding from the Legacy Amendment, they went to check it out again. The project was relatively small and specifically targeted. The team first used high-tech equipment to check for varying characteristics of the soil to pinpoint locations that could yield artifacts or ground conditions that indicated a fire pit or a structure. One spot they identified turned out to be a fire pit. Now, a bag of charred rock and burned animal bones is evidence that whoever was there ate large mammals, although Fleming noted, "It's so crushed up that it's not really identifiable."
     To the 1950s collection already at the Science Museum, they added stone flakes - evidence of tool making - and projectile points, more commonly known as arrowheads. They also found bits of pottery, but one thing that they didn't find was evidence of permanent housing. That leads Fleming and other archeologists to believe that the Spring Lake area may have been more of a temporary campsite than a village.
     But the area is large, and there are more places to explore. It would make sense to eventually find housing, said State Archeologist Scott Anfinson, because there are burial mounds at another site near the lake. "It takes a village to raise a mound group," Anfinson said.
     Other prehistoric settlements are along the waterway. These sites, although in a park, are relatively remote and tough to reach. There is no trail yet, but there could be someday when there is a better understanding of what is out there and needs to be protected, said Bruce Blair, manager of facilities and development for Dakota County Parks and Open Space. For now, park visitors can get a taste of the prehistoric settlement at the park, believed to stretch back 8,000 years, in interpretive displays at the Schaar's Bluff Gathering Center.

Edited from Star Tribune (25 September 2010)

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