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Last modified 07/14/14


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MVAC 2014 Public/High School/Middle School Field School

Thanks to everyone who helped with this year's field school!

Thank you to the UW-L College of Liberal Studies for providing funding for student scholarships for this summer's youth archaeology field opportunities!

Thanks to Norskedalen for hosting the field school at their Norsdedalen Heritage Site!

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Boys Science Exploration Session: Experimental Archaeology

As part of a two-day science camp at UW-L, MVAC Senior Research Associate, Dr. Connie Arzigian, taught a session for several Middle School boys on Sunday, June 22. During the session the participants made their own stone tools and used them on different materials to learn how scraping and cutting can be done with sharp flakes.  A highlight of the session was skinned a deer leg and breaking it open to extract the marrow.

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Great Attendance at MVAC's Public Field Survey

The MVAC Public Field Survey had perfect weather this Saturday, after being rained out for three years. We worked on land that is part of the Norskedalen Heritage Site near Coon Valley. Twenty volunteers surveyed about 30 acres of land, and found a small triangular projectile point, lots of waste flakes and a few cores. One interesting historic find was a small glass bead that might date to the time of the first Euroamerican settlers on the land, the Skumsrud family, who built their first house on the property in 1853. Here's a link to more information about Norskedalen  Thanks to all those who helped make this year's Public Field Survey a success!

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Dr. Tiffany Receives Award 

UW-L Professor Emeritus and former MVAC Director, Dr. Joseph Tiffany, was awarded the Distinguished Fellow Award from the Iowa Academy of Science, the Academy's highest honor, on April 11, 2014. This award recognizes Dr. Tiffany's exceptional career of archaeological research in the Plains and Midwest. Congratulations Joe!

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GPR Training

The UW-L Archaeological Studies Program recently obtained state-of-the-art geophysical equipment that can be used for 'seeing' underground prior to ground disturbance and archaeological excavation. MVAC Research Associates Dave Anderson and Jessi Halligan were instrumental in preparing the successful grant proposal which was fully funded by the College of Liberal Studies. This equipment, which includes a ground penetrating radar unit (GPR), a resistivity meter, and a magnetometer, along with compatible survey equipment, adds to the already impressive arsenal of equipment that MVAC and the Archaeological Studies program uses for training students and conducting research. 

Archaeology faculty, staff and students received training on the GPR unit on May 2nd. A representative from the GPR manufacturer guided staff members through basic survey methods at Campbell Cemetery in north La Crosse. The cemetery was established in 1863, and veterans from the Civil War, War of 1812, and World War I are buried there. The cemetery contains a number of unmarked graves that Archaeology faculty and students will try to locate during a geophysical survey for the City of La Crosse, using the newly acquired equipment.

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Artifact Show a Success!

Thanks to all the collectors, volunteers and MVAC staff who helped to make this year’s Artifact Show a success!  We estimate that over 5,000 people stopped by to look at artifacts displayed by MVAC and thirteen area collectors.  Highlights of the show were the identification of artifacts by MVAC staff, and the wonderful collections of artifacts displayed by area collectors. 

Are you eager to get more involved in the area’s archaeology?  Then consider attending an upcoming event – volunteer field survey, lectures, public/high school field school, or youth classes.  Information about these events can be found on MVAC’s Events & Displays web page at:

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2014 Lithic Materials Workshop a Success!

Despite cold and snow, over 120 people came from a four-state region to share knowledge about raw materials and technologies used by Native Americans in making stone tools. Participants included professional archaeologists, students from UW-L and other universities, flintknappers, artifact collectors, and interested members of the public. The event featured discussions, papers, posters, flintknapping demonstrations, a "lithic materials exchange," and a thought-provoking presentation on the peopling of the Americas by UW-L Assistant Professor of Archaeology Jessi Halligan. The diverse range of participants created an unusual opportunity for professional and public outreach, and a unique learning and networking experience for students. We would like to thank everyone that helped to make this year’s event a success, in particular - Dean Benson and the College of Liberal Studies for supporting the workshop and the Minnesota Archaeological Society for providing the Saturday breakfast.

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Camille A. Lonstorf Trust Donation to MVAC's Educational Endowment

More great news for MVAC’s Education Endowment – we just received a $500 donation from the Camille A. Lonstorf Trust for our Education Endowment! How wonderful! Thanks so much to the Camille A. Lonstorf Trust for their support of MVAC’s public outreach efforts! 

If you would like to make a contribution to MVAC’s Education Endowment, just send your donation to MVAC UW-L, 1725 State St., La Crosse, WI 54601 and indicate that you would like the funds to be used for the Education Endowment.

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Anonymous Donation to MVAC's Education Endowment

MVAC just received some great news to start off the New Year - a $3,000 anonymous donation has been made to MVAC’s Education Endowment!  In challenging economic times such as these, contributions to our Educational Endowment are particularly important and are especially appreciated.  Contributions such as this anonymous donation allow us to continue to bring the excitement of the area’s pre-European people and the process of archaeology to adults, teachers and students through a variety of opportunities such as classroom presentations, fieldwork opportunities, and lectures.  A big thank you to our anonymous donor!  The contribution is truly appreciated!

If you would like to make a contribution to MVAC’s Education Endowment, just send your donation to MVAC UW-L, 1725 State St., La Crosse, WI 54601 and indicate that you would like the funds to be used for the Education Endowment.

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Archaeology of Minnesota

Listen to an interview with Dr. Guy Gibbon (MVAC’s November 2013 lecturer) a professor emeritus of the Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota at

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Walder Receives SHA Student Paper Prize

Heather Walder, MVAC Research Associate and UW-L Sociology/Archaeology Department Associate Lecturer, will be receiving the prestigious Society for Historic Archaeology’s Student Paper Prize at their annual meeting in Quebec City in January 2014.  Congratulation, Heather!

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MVAC to host another National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers in 2014 

MVAC has been notified that we have been chosen to offer another National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers. MVAC feels honored to again be selected for this prestigious and highly competitive award. The Institute is entitled Exploring the Past: Archaeology in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and is designed for K-12th grade teachers from across the nation. Staff will again be Dr. James Theler, Dr. Kathy Stevenson and Bonnie Jancik. MVAC has hosted four previous NEH Institutes; each with a diverse group of highly committed teacher who were eager to learn about the process of archeology and the pre-European people of the area and to then apply that information in their own classrooms. We’re excited about hosting another NEH Institute and the possibility of working with a new group of teachers! Information about our Institute can be found on-line at:

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Remembering Former MVAC Board President Carole Edland

MVAC wishes to extend its sincere condolences to the family of Carole Edland who passed away on July 31.  Carole served on MVAC’s Board of Directors for over 20 years as the long time Vice-President and also President from 1998-2003. She received the James P. Gallagher Award in Archaeology Excellence in 2008 for her years of dedication and service to MVAC.  She will be greatly missed.  Obituary at:

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Julie Welch Named 2013 Wisconsin History Teacher of the Year

Congratulations to Julie Welch the 2013 Wisconsin History Teacher of the Year!  Julie Welch, a teacher at North Woods International School in La Crosse, has worked with Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center for many years including participating in a grant-funded archaeology training program for teachers, working with MVAC to involve students in archaeological excavations at her school, and bringing MVAC staff and resources into her classroom.  We’re excited to see Julie’s enthusiasm for teaching and her dedication to her students recognized.  Congratulation, Julie!  Read more at: and fb_comment_id=fbc_536683036385855_5057433_536702996383859#f2c3c6a32bc7ef6 and

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2013 Public Field School

Thanks to everyone who helped with this year's field school!

Thank you to the UW-L Foundation and UW-L College of Liberal Studies for providing funding for student scholarships for this summer's youth archaeology field opportunities!

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MVAC's New Director

Exciting news! The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center (MVAC) is getting a new director. Tim McAndrews will take over Sept. 1, 2013, for Joe Tiffany, who is retiring Aug. 31, 2013, after 11 years at the helm. 

McAndrews joined the UW-L Sociology/Archaeology Department in 2001 and was promoted to professor in 2008. He has directed the archaeological studies program since 2010. 

McAndrews is an expert on the Tiwanaku civilization that developed in the Lake Titicaca Basin and spread extensively throughout the South Central Andes of South America. His anthropological research focuses on the early village-based adaptation and the development of complex society. 

McAndrews has used ancient settlement in the Bolivian highlands as his case study. He has directed multiple research seasons in the Bolivian highlands since 1994 and has engaged dozens of UW-L and Bolivian students into his international field school. He is active in publishing and presenting research in international contexts. 

McAndrews also has extensive experience directing research in North America. Prior to joining UW-L he managed the Cultural Resource Division of Michael Baker Corp., a large Pittsburgh-based engineering firm. There he directed large-scale, multi-million dollar projects throughout the mid-Atlantic region primarily involving compliance driven archaeological research for the Federal Highways Administration and the Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Virginia departments of transportation. In addition to research, McAndrews managed more than 40 professional archaeologists, historians, surveyors and specialized lab personnel. 

Tiffany has served as a professor of archaeological studies in UW-L’s Sociology and Archaeology Department and executive director of the Mississippi Valley Archaeology since fall 2002. Prior to UW-L, Tiffany was an associate professor of anthropology at Iowa State University, as well as professor in the Geography-Anthropology Department and Associate Dean for Business Affairs at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Before that he held various leadership positions in cultural resource management. 

Since 1982, MVAC has been involved in researching, preserving and teaching about archaeological resources of the Upper Mississippi River region. Besides Tiffany, the center has been directed by Jim Gallagher who served from its opening until he retired in 2002.  

McAndrews is committed to continuing MVAC’s unique combination of education, outreach, preservation, and cultural resource management activities. Stay tuned for further updates!

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Highway 35 Display in UW-L’s Main Hall

Artifacts recovered from the recent Highway 35 project in Onalaska and the Wisconsin DOT Tribal Excellence Award that MVAC received for its work on the project, can be seen in a new display outside the Chancellor’s office in UW-L’s Main Hall.  Stop by to see some of the artifacts recovered during the excavation.  Main Hall is open during regular business hours.

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MVAC Wins Award for Work on Onalaska Highway Project

Archaeologist Kathy Stevenson recalls catching the first glimpse of an ancient village buried under Hwy. 35 in Onalaska. It was summer 2011, and building demolition for a large road construction project had begun. Amid the rubble, her team of researchers zoned in on some dark soil where a building foundation had just been removed.

In a time long before garbage trucks, these dark circles in the earth were left behind by 400-700 year-old garbage pits or “pit features” — spots where former cultures threw their garbage. The seemingly mundane find to a layperson was a treasure trove to her team of archeologists.

“What archaeologists study is the remains people left behind from their everyday life,” says Stevenson, projects director for the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center. “From their ‘garbage’ we can tell what tools they made, the animal resources they used, what kind of crops they grew, the size of the site, how long they lived there … there is so much information you can tease out.”

MVAC researchers knew they would learn more about the Oneota culture, which flourished in the La Crosse and Onalaska area from about A.D. 1300 to 1600. But the team was in for a surprise when the two pit features became six and eventually 500 as the workers began to peel away the roadbed in 2012, exposing remnants of the village, as well as human remains in more than 30 locations.

“There was an entire, intact strip of village right under the street for about five blocks,” says Stevenson. “The ramifications were huge and so were the responsibilities — especially when dealing with human remains, where there is a strict process that needs to be followed.”

Yet, the archeologists were keenly aware that they were working in the middle of a busy downtown area with a construction timeline to follow. 

“When you have a road dug up in the middle of the city, you need to keep moving dirt,” says Chris Dahl, projects leader with the Department of Transportation. “I was fearful going into the project that it would be held up, but once I saw how the MVAC team got going on things —putting in long days and long hours — I saw they wanted to work with us to get the project done. They understood the time constraints we were dealing with.”

Stevenson says communication — every day and sometimes multiple times each day — was key. They had to work with multiple stakeholders in the project including the DOT, Federal Highway Administration, Wisconsin Historical Society, City of Onalaska, Ho-Chunk Nation and construction contractors.

For MVAC’s commitment and dedication to the project, the team was recognized with a 2012 WisDOT Tribal Excellence Award during a ceremony on Dec. 11, 2012, at the WisDOT Tribal Transportation Conference. The award is for providing exemplary contributions and services to building and enhancing partnerships with the Wisconsin DOT and Wisconsin Tribal communities.

“We are used to working with construction companies,” says Wendy Holtz-Leith, MVAC research archaeologist. “We are out in the hot sun, shoveling all day along with them.”

MVAC staff as well as student crew members pitched in to keep the project moving, says Stevenson. They found items such as pottery, animal bones, food waste, burnt rock, deposits of ash from cooking fires and more.

MVAC had suspected there would be artifacts in this location based on historic records, including newspaper accounts from as far back as the 1880s indicating people had found “Indian artifacts” and “Indian remains.”

“When I first started working in this area about 30 years ago, we knew almost nothing about the area having these kinds of sites,” says Stevenson. “We keep building more of a picture of the cultures who lived here and who they were.”

Excavation is only a small part of the archaeologist’s job. Now MVAC archeologists who worked on the project spend their days cleaning and cataloging artifacts found at the site. Above student workers catalog artifacts. Additional work will include writing reports and providing public lectures and displays. 

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Follow a Trail of Trash

Connie Arzigian, UW-L MVAC, stated “Pretty much all we know about ancient civilizations we learned by digging through their trash” in the La Crosse Tribune article entitled Follow a Trail of Trash.  Read the whole article at:

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La Crosse Community Foundation Richard W. Brown Family Fund Donation

What a wonderful way to celebrate the New Year – with a grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation Richard W. Brown Family Fund!  This grant will help MVAC continue educational and outreach activities that have given countless children and adults the opportunity to learn about this area’s archaeology and past cultures.  Activities supported by the La Crosse Community Foundation Richard W. Brown Family Fund for the coming year will include MVAC’s annual artifact show, lecture series, school and community presentations, volunteer field survey, and summer youth classes and public field school.  We are sincerely grateful for the La Crosse Community Foundation Richard W. Brown Family Fund’s support!

If you would like to make a contribution to MVAC’s Education Program, just send your donation to MVAC UW-L, 1725 State St., La Crosse, WI 54601 and indicate that you would like the funds to be used for MVAC’s Education Program.

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2012 Exploring the Past National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers

The 2012 Summer Institute Exploring the Past: Archaeology in the Upper Mississippi River Valley shared the story of 13,500 years of human history with a group of enthusiastic K-12 educators from across the United States.  The Institute covered both the process of archaeological discovery and the information learned to date about the succession of cultures that have occupied the Upper Mississippi River valley.  The focus was on how societies have adapted and evolved to this unique region through time, and how archaeologists have been able to learn about and interpret that process of adaptation.  Based in southwestern Wisconsin at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse (UW-L), home of the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center (MVAC), the Institute incorporated field trips and specific examples drawn from the rich archaeological record of this area. Presentations and discussions also included archaeological information that spanned the Midwestern United States, with reference to events and processes in the rest of the country, as well as larger concepts related to anthropology, culture, and human adaptation. 

During the Institute, teachers completed an individual classroom implementation project with project staff facilitation that led them to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the Institute's content for use in their own classrooms. The projects covered a wide range, including creation of unit and lesson plans, supporting materials (worksheets, web resources, images, local resources and contacts, etc.), PowerPoint and Prezi presentations, a summer school course, and exploration of regional archaeology opportunities for educators. Many teachers completed activities and lessons that adapted what they had learned about archaeology to their own regions. Lessons were created in a wide range of disciplines that incorporated concepts from the Institute, including social studies, world history, U.S. history, anthropology, sociology and civics; life, earth, physical, and environmental sciences; general math and algebra; language arts – reading and writing; and visual arts.  The Institute culminated with the teachers presenting their completed projects. The sharing of these creative and diverse ideas and projects was one of the most exciting parts of the Institute.  Twenty-seven appropriate lessons have been posted to MVAC's Web site ( to make them available to interested teachers around the nation beyond the project period.

Twenty-five teachers from 13 states (FL, IA, ID, IL, LA, MI, MN, NC, NY, OR, PA, TX, WI) participated in the 2012 Exploring the Past NEH Summer Institute for Teachers

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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
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All material Copyright © 2000-2014 Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.