1999 AND 2000 Excavation at Seventh Street
by: Wendy Holtz-Leith, Research Archaeologist, Mississippi Valley
2000 Excavation - Update August 14, 2000
Last summer's (1999) excavations took place in a small triangular shaped block. Over
50 storage/refuse pits were found within this area. This area appears to have
been very heavily used, as many of the pits overlapped each other. Most had
artifacts such as broken pieces of pottery, chipped stone from making stone
tools, stone tools, animal bone and shell, and plant remains from what the early
residents had eaten.
Over the winter, artifacts from the 1999 excavations were processed and
analyzed. The majority of the pottery is from 1300-1400 AD, from a time period
that we call the Brice Prairie Phase. This is the earliest of the Oneota phases
in the La Crosse area. Some of the pottery from the site is from 1500-1650 AD,
the last of the Oneota phases in La Crosse, what we call the Valley View Phase.
Some of the artifacts recovered include a rare etched
sherd, copper and
bone beads and a pendant, small triangular arrow points, and food remains.
Archaeological excavations continued this year (2000) for the new 7th
street interchange, near Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center. This year's
excavations took place at the same time as the construction of the new
road. We became accustomed to the deafening drone of heavy equipment, and the
other people working on the construction learned a little bit about
archaeology. The majority of the archaeology involved monitoring as the
construction took place. If any intact archaeological deposits were found
construction stopped in that area and the deposits were removed. Since the project
area was in the middle of the city much of the project area had been disturbed by
previous utilities, roads, and houses.
Excavations within these undisturbed areas have given us more information on
how this village may have looked and how it may have changed over time. The
features excavated this year did not overlap like the features from last year
did. There were also fewer artifacts with the features. This may show that areas
of the village were used in different ways.
Our direct involvement with the project began to wind down at the beginning
of August. The road construction is slated to be done in October.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done for the project. All of the
data collected over the last two summers will be looked at this fall and winter
and a report with the findings will be written.
For the past two years, archaeologists from the Mississippi Valley
Archaeology Center have been excavating near the Gundersen Lutheran Medical
Center for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. These excavations are
allowing us to learn more about the prehistory of this interesting area. This
summer, monitoring and excavations will begin after the existing roadways and
parking lots have been removed. As construction and rebuilding continues
in our area, urban "digs" are becoming more familiar. We are glad to
be in such a central location, so that we can share the excitement of
"urban" archaeology with you.
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This past summer MVAC personnel, under contract with the Wisconsin Department
of Transportation, excavated part of an Oneota village located at Sixth and
Tyler Streets in La Crosse, Wisconsin. More excavations and monitoring are
planned for this spring and summer, as construction continues.
The project area is located within the Sanford Archaeological District, a
late prehistoric Oneota village and cemetery complex that encompasses 26 city
blocks centering around the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Complex.
Oneota occupation of the La Crosse river terrace began around 1300 A.D. and
lasted until approximately 1650. The Oneota were corn-based agriculturalists who
heavily exploited riverine and wetland resources as well as hunting for deer,
elk, and bison. Below a historic layer the prehistoric living surface/midden of
the Oneota was encountered. Within and below the midden are storage/refuse
features. Over 30 of these features were fully or partially excavated.
The Oneota dug these deep storage pits to be used much like today’s root
cellars, to store perishable foods. The pits were lined with grass mats, the
food was placed inside, and then covered. A storage pit could only be used a
year or two before it would become infested with rodents. The pit would then be
used as a garbage receptacle. The garbage would then decay and leave a dark
stain. Some of the features excavated contained many artifacts, while others
were almost completely sterile. Stone tools, stone waste flakes, broken pottery
sherds, animal bones, mussel shell, plant remains and fire cracked rock were
commonly found at the site.
The pottery from the site indicates two different Oneota occupations. The
largest component of the site dates from 1300-1400 A.D., the earliest of the
Oneota occupations in La Crosse. A smaller component of the site begins around
1500 A.D. and continues until the French came to the region around 1650.
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