Archaeological Excavation at the River Resort Site
by: Thomas C. Pleger, Adjunct Archaeologist, Mississippi
Valley Archaeology Center
This web page summarizes the results of archaeological excavations at
the River Resort Site (47-Gt-601) in the Village of Bagley, Grant
County, Wisconsin (Figure 1). The project was undertaken in preparation
for a proposed water treatment system that was partially funded by the
Farmers Home Administration Rural Development Program.
|Figure 1. Project location map; Bagley 7.5' Quadrangle.
The site was discovered in April 1997, during a surface survey
whereby prehistoric artifacts were recovered from eroded surfaces and
from a series of test-pits excavated by shovel. This survey located
artifacts along a river terrace that is now part of the River of Lakes
|Figure 2. Enhanced photograph of Unit O (west wall profile) showing the
relationship of the soils and cultural stratigraphy.
After the discovery of the site, MVAC archaeologists returned in late
April 1997 and conducted test excavations which resulted in the
identification of a series of artifact bearing layers that were still
intact and in chronological order. This type of layering is referred to
as a culturally stratified deposit and is of great significance since
each episode of human habitation is contained within separate layers and
can be distinguished from older and younger occupations (Figure 2). Test
units revealed artifacts related to prehistoric Native American
habitation from both Woodland
(500 B.C. - A.D. 1000) and Middle/Late
Archaic (4000-1000 B.C.) occupations. Due to the fact that intact sites
of this antiquity are extremely rare in Wisconsin, and that little is
known about Middle Woodland and Middle/Late Archaic lifeways, the site
was considered to be significant in terms of its potential to yield
additional archaeological information about Wisconsinís prehistoric
Since much of the River Resort site was going to be destroyed as a
result of construction associated with the sewer project, it was decided
that a portion of the impacted area would be excavated in order to
recover a representative sample of the information that would otherwise
have been lost. Excavations were undertaken by the Mississippi Valley
Archaeology Center (MVAC) under contract with Blackhawk Engineering
during the Summer of 1997 (Figure 3).
|Figure 3. Block Excavations at the River Resort Site.
Prior to excavation, the original sewer route plans were modified so
as to minimize site impact. This resulted in avoidance of the densest
areas of the site and allowed for a portion of the site to be preserved.
Archaeological excavations were limited to specific areas of direct
sewer route construction. Three specific areas were targeted for
investigation: 1) the Packer Drive area; 2) the Mississippi Drive area;
and, 3) the Skid Row area. Excavations resulted in the recovery of
Woodland and Archaic artifacts and the identification of several trash
pits (features). Three Woodland features and two Archaic features were
|Figure 4. Map of the Mississippi Drive Area.
The Mississippi Drive area (Figure 4) produced a series of
prehistoric deposits including the only shell-tempered pottery from
47-Gt-601. These pottery sherds consisted of tiny fragments of smooth
surfaced, undecorated, shell-tempered sherds that appear to be from the
body of one or two vessels. The sherds were recovered from a layer
located immediately below the present day surface. This material
suggests the presence of, or interaction with, Oneota/Mississippian
populations; however, no other Oneota or Mississippian diagnostics were
|Figure 5. Microblade tools and Snyder
point (lower right).
Woodland materials were recovered in the upper 50 centimeters in all
three areas. Pottery consisted of Prairie Ware (Early Woodland), Lane
Farm Cord-impressed (early Late Woodland), and Madison Cord-impressed
(Late Woodland) ceramics. Several dentate-stamped Middle Woodland -
Trempealeau phase sherds, a series of micro-blade tools, and a Middle
Woodland Snyders point were also recovered (Figure 5). Artifacts related
to the Woodland occupations consisted of Prairie du Chien and Galena
chert debitage, retouched flakes, bifaces, biface fragments, and pottery
sherds(Figure 6). In all areas of excavation, Woodland artifacts were
concentrated in the A horizon and the upper half of the underlying B
horizon (Figure 2).
Late woodland - Madison
Figure 6. Woodland artifacts from the
Mississippi Drive Area.
Three Woodland features were identified as originating from the base
of the A horizon. Feature 3 (Packer Drive area) and feature 7 (Skid Row
area) are interpreted as small circular refuse pits. Feature 3 consisted
of a basin-shaped pit. The shape of feature 7 was difficult to precisely
define. Feature 5 (Mississippi Drive Area) consisted of a large circular
basin-shaped shallow pit (Figure 7). Other than a series of nondescript
grit-tempered pottery sherds, no diagnostic artifacts were recovered
from the Woodland features. A single radiocarbon date from feature 5
produced a date of: 2020 BP + / - 40 BP (BP = Before Present),
suggesting an early Middle Woodland cultural affiliation.
|Figure 7. Plan and profile view of
Feature 5 - seen here as a dark stain in the unit floor and
lower profile wall.
Archaic artifacts were also identified in all three areas; however,
the densest concentration of intact deposits occurred in the Mississippi
Drive area. The Mississippi Drive area produced an isolated pre-pottery
layer most heavily concentrated in the lower third of the B horizon and
within the B to C horizon transition (Figure 2). In some instances, the
Archaic materials continued down into the upper 10-15 cm of the C
Figure 8. Archaic points from the
Non-feature, diagnostic artifacts, from this deposit consist of a
single Late Archaic Durst Stemmed biface base and a Middle Archaic,
Raddatz point (Figure 8). The Mississippi Drive area also produced a
pre-pottery (presumably Archaic) layer of heat-fractured debitage and
biface fragments manufactured from Galena cherts. This deposit occurred
at a depth of 60-90 centimeters below ground surface and is interpreted
as the discarded debris from heat-treating activities (Figure 9).
Heat-treating is a technique that was often done by prehistoric stone
tool makers to remove excess moisture in the stone prior to flaking.
Heat-treating allows the stone to flake better and often causes the
material to appear more lustrous and darker in color.
|Figure 9. Heat shattered Galena chert
biface fragments from the Mississippi Drive Area.
Two Archaic features were identified in the Mississippi Drive area
(Figure 4). Feature 4 consisted of a small deep basin shaped pit that
originated within the lower half of the B horizon. It contained
heat-fractured debitage, a broken side or corner-notched projectile
point, several tiny nodules of red ocher, and several tiny fragments of
calcined bone. Although the base of the projectile point is missing, the
general morphology suggests a Late/Middle Archaic cultural affiliation
(Figure 10). A radiocarbon date of 3030 + / - 60 BP was obtained from
feature 4. Based upon the radiocarbon date and the broken Archaic point,
feature 4 is interpreted as a Late Archaic refuse pit.
Figure 10. Feature 4 showing
projectile point in-situ. Photo of projectile point and
retouched flake from Feature 4
Feature 6 (Figure 2) was located immediately west of feature 4
(Figure 4). It also originated in the lower portion of the B horizon and
was similar in size and shape. Artifacts included debitage, a stage II
biface base, a utilized flake, and a large stage I cleaver-like biface.
A charcoal sample was submitted for radiocarbon dating and a date of
6040 BP + / - 60 BP was obtained. No diagnostic artifacts were recovered
and the date must be accepted at face value. Feature 6 is interpreted as
a Middle Archaic refuse pit.
Although no dense Woodland deposits were encountered during
excavation and diagnostic artifacts are minimal, excavations revealed
three Woodland features along with a series of mixed and minimally
stratified cultural deposits. These deposits include Early, Middle and
Late Woodland materials. Unfortunately, no Middle Woodland, Trempealeau
phase or Lane Farm Cord-impressed materials were recovered in isolated
context. A single date from feature 5 confirms an early Middle Woodland
In both the Mississippi Drive and Skid Row areas, pre-pottery
deposits were encountered beneath the Woodland materials. Radiocarbon
data from two excavated features suggests that at least two Archaic
components are represented; a Late Archaic occupation and an earlier
Middle Archaic occupation.
The River Resort site (47-Gt-601) is a significant archaeological
site. Archaeological investigations revealed a series of artifact rich
layers indicating that the area has been used by prehistoric Native
Americans for at least 6,000 years. A cooperative effort was made by the
Village of Bagley, Blackhawk Engineering, the Farmers Home
Administration Rural Development Program, the State Historic
Preservation Office of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and
the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at UW-La Crosse to rescue and
preserve a portion of the archaeological information that would have
otherwise been destroyed. This information has provided additional
insights into the prehistory of the Upper Mississippi Valley and has
contributed to a better understanding of prehistoric lifeways in this
region. All artifacts and records will be curated at the Mississippi
Valley Archaeology Centerís Archaeological Laboratory at the
University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.
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Photos courtesy of Tom Pleger