Field Schools at the Krause Site
2003 Public Field School
by: Connie Arzigian, Research Archaeologist
Bonnie Jancik, Director of Public Education
Mandy Georgeff, UW-L Archaeological Studies student
During the summer of 2003 the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Centerís
annual Public Field School had the opportunity to excavate an Oneota
house structure at the Meier Farm Site (47 Lc 432) in Onalaska, Wisconsin. The
Public Field School is held for one week each year during the last week in July.
It provides the public with a wonderful opportunity to work with real
archaeologists on authentic research. Twenty-one great individuals ranging in
ages from middle school students to adults participated in this yearís public
field school. During the course of the week the participants experienced hot,
dry desert-like conditions and a sudden downpour of rain that tested their
dedication to archaeology and the project. After the publicís week at the
site, MVACís college field crew completed the siteís excavation.
The Meier Farm Site is part of the Sand Lake Archaeological District, and
represents a village associated with extensive ridged agricultural fields that
have been found nearby. The house structure that was being examined in 2003 was
one of the very few such structures in the La Crosse area that archaeologists
have ever had the opportunity to investigate. The others that we presume existed
have all been destroyed by decades of cultivation. This structure was defined by
over 300 post holes, small circular stains left when wooden posts decayed. The
structure was probably similar to a wigwam, or a long rectangular building. The
walls might have been covered with mats or hides, or might have been mostly
open. One of our research goals is to figure out what season(s) the structure
had been occupied, and that will give us a better clue as to how the structure
might have looked. The deer mandibles found in these features will help us to
identify the seasons that the structure was used. Winter facilities will have
served very different functions from a summer sleeping or shade area.
Within the structure we found a number of relatively shallow features that
suggested mostly cooking activities, as well as perhaps pottery manufacture and
stone tool reworking. The hearths were placed in several areas of the structure,
not concentrated in one spot, suggesting multiple work areas, either for
different activities, or for different groups of people. The number of interior
post molds suggests that there might have been racks or other smaller facilities
inside. Perhaps there were drying or smoking facilities to prepare foods and
hides for storage. All of the activities appear to have taken place over a
relatively short period of time, rather than reflecting intensive use over a
full year or multiple years.
What we did NOT find is equally as interesting. We did not find large and
deep storage pits such as we typically find on Oneota villages. These kinds of
pits might not have been built within structures, but might have been placed
outside the structure.
Most of the cultural remains that were found at the site are characteristic
of the Oneota time period, from 1300 to 1625 A.D. Examples of Oneota
cultural remains found at the site included: shell-tempered pottery, end
scrapers, fire cracked rock
(FCR), burning pits, and basin or bell-shaped storage pits. In
addition, we found several features that had Woodland
or grit-tempered pottery probably dating to between 700 and 1200 A.D.,
suggesting that this place had been occupied multiple times in the past.
The Meier Farm Site was a salvage excavation project. Recovery of information
from the site was needed due to plans to turn the area into a new housing
subdivision in the very near future. The Public Field School allowed us to do
much more work here than would have otherwise been possible. It gave us a unique
view of what life might have been like at 1500 A.D. The 26 field school
participants and supervisors working in the structure might have been typical of
the total number of people in an extended family that once occupied this
structure. Working together as a unit, the crew helped to preserve some of that
ancient history for the future.
Individual Feature Descriptions
Hereís what happened with each of the features. Those who joined us in the
excavations can see what was found after they left the site, and can see what
others were doing.
The house structure was identified by the post molds surrounding a series of features
such as hearths and pits. Post molds are the organic stains
that remain after the wooden support structures have decayed. There were about
320 post molds forming the house. Each post mold was given a number and each
feature was numbered 239 A-S. Each feature was given the same 239 number because
they are all part of the same structure. The letter after the 239 identifies
each feature individually.
Feature 239 A
Feature 239 A was excavated by Stephanie, LeVerne, and Jeff. This was a very
rich feature that was centered within the house. At first it was thought to have
been a sweat lodge since it was surrounded by post molds. Large pieces of FCR
were found in the north half of the excavated feature along with numerous flakes,
and red ocher. MVACís college crew excavated the south half of this feature.
They noticed that the feature ended but a post mold in the middle of the feature
continued down another 20 cmbss (centimeters below scraped surface). Since the
feature and post mold stain are about the same color it was hard to tell whether
the feature had a post mold within it until hitting sterile soil and then
looking at the profile wall. This post mold within the feature was a common
theme for about 3 or 4 of the other features within the house complex.
Feature 239 B
John, Gregg, and Bob, who are part of MVACís college crew, excavated
feature 239 B. The feature is located just east of Feature 239A and west of
Feature 239 D1 and D2. This feature appeared to be two separated features on the
surface. The features were excavated separately according to zones in the soil.
Feature B1 rapidly disappeared and Feature 239 B continued. In the first level
of 239B and B1 two flakes and one beaver mandible were found. Zone A of Feature
239 B was their largest zone and yielded an elk scapula and a large piece of an
Oneota pot. During excavation a sterile area was encountered containing numerous
pottery sherds and three rims and three handles which appeared to be from three
different pots. This feature was a very large and deep pit requiring a lot of
time and patience to excavate.
Feature 239 C
Ryan and his parents excavated Feature 239 C, a basin-shaped pit with a dark
sandy soil. The north half was excavated first, followed by the south half. This
feature only went down about 15cmbss. Within this feature, however, the
excavators found charcoal and small pottery sherds. Feature 239 C lies close to
features 239 A and 239 D so they are probably related because of the artifacts
found in all three features. This area of the house might have been where a lot
of the fire burning and cooking took place.
Feature 239 D
John, Michelle, Barry, Mary, and Marsha excavated feature 239 D. This was a
large feature. On the surface it had a large portion of charcoal in rows so it
appears to be the remains of burned logs. Eventually the feature was sub-divided
into 239 D1 and 239 D2 because as the feature went down deeper it turned into
two distinct features. Feature 239 D1, with the large pieces of charcoal, was
carefully excavated around the charcoal. Underneath the charcoal area, the
feature stain lightened and the remains of turtle shell were found in very poor
condition. Large pieces of FCR were present at the base of the feature floor.
Within the boundaries of feature 239 D2, high quantities of Prairie du Chien
chert flakes and shatter were
found along with some bone and pottery. The artifacts were concentrated in the
center of the feature. MVACís college field crew finished excavating the first
halves of these two features. Artifacts were found that were similar to those
recovered by the public crew - pottery, animal bone, and flakes. However, due to
time constraints the second halves of these two features were not excavated.
Feature 239 H
Beth and Lauren excavated Feature 239 H that was a shallow pit only going 10
cmbss. The only artifacts that they found were bird bones. The top portion of
this feature may have been scraped off by the bulldozer or simply used for a
short period of time to process the bird for a meal, which would explain why the
pit was so shallow.
Feature 239 J
Kameron and Cindy excavated feature 239 J. This feature was rich with
artifacts. On the surface however it looked like it may have joined feature 239
K. However during excavation it was discovered that the features were actually
two distinct features. The majority of the artifacts found within Feature 239 J
were small flakes, charcoal, shell, a deer mandible, a large pottery cluster,
and FCR. This features looks like it may have been a burning or cooking pit.
There were also numerous small mammal bones found here along with fish scales.
This feature was almost completed by the end of the public field school. MVACís
college crew completed the excavation and found minimal artifacts that included
a few flakes and some small pottery sherds. The feature stain was very dark
which indicates that a lot of organic materials decayed in this feature pit.
Feature 239 K
Scott excavated feature 239 K. This feature was about 10 cm west of feature
239 J. This feature had minimal artifacts but had the same post mold within the
feature as feature 239 A had. This post mold within 239 K was a very large one.
It may have been one of the center posts that helped to hold the structure up.
Artifacts recovered included a large piece of FCR, a large flake on the surface
of the feature, and bone. Only a matrix
sample was taken from the second half when MVACís college crew completed this
feature. This approach was used due to time constraints and the lack of
artifacts found within the first half of the feature.
Feature 239 M
Jenny and Ashley excavated feature 239 M. This feature was just on the edge
of the house on the southwest end of the site. The south half of their feature
went down about 20cmbss. And contained large pieces of fire cracked rock; a few
pieces of shell-tempered pottery, and red ocher. Within this feature there were
two distinct areas, A and B. Area A contained the artifact cluster and Area B
was the lighter stained soil around the artifact cluster. Red ocher was one of
many types of artifacts to be found in this feature. Red ocher was used for many
things such as staining bones and body paint. In the second half of the feature
Ashley uncovered not one but two deer mandibles. Deer mandibles are useful
artifacts to recover at a site. The age of the mandible may indicate what time
of the year the occupants were at the site as well as what they were eating. The
feature didnít continue down much farther and no additional artifacts were
recovered after the removal of the deer mandible and numerous pieces of FCR.
MVACís college crew finished the second half of this feature.
Feature 239 N
Aaron and Daniel excavated feature 239 N. This pit feature went 30 cmbss and
was located on the eastern side of the house structure. In the first half of the
feature they found a stone knife made from Hixton Silicified Sandstone and some
shell-tempered pottery sherds. The second half of the feature contained some
charcoal, unfired clay, and a Valley View phase rim dating between 1500-1625
Feature 239 O
Amy and Annie excavated Feature 239 O that was a basin shaped feature near
feature 239 N on the eastern side of the house structure. The feature was
shallow only going 15 cmbss. The first half of the feature contained charcoal
and pottery. The second half of the feature contained unfired clay just like
feature 239 N. Feature 239 N and 239 O are very close to each other and have
similar artifacts in each one. This area of the house could possibly be where
the clay pots were being constructed based on the unfired clay found at those
two features. Some grit-tempered pottery, which is a Woodland component, was
also recovered. This indicates dual occupancy of the site by two different
groups of people at two different times in history.
Feature 239 S
Two college crew member for MVAC discovered and excavated a feature just on
the southwestern boundary of the house. This feature was named Feature 239 S and
was excavated by Mandy and Danielle. This feature was identified because of the
pottery cluster that protruded from the ground surface. Within 5-10 cmbss the
remains of one whole side of a pot was uncovered. Two Valley View Rims
(1500-1625 A.D.), FCR, and flakes were found in this artifact cluster. This
small artifact cluster feature had a maximum depth of 25cmbss. The pottery
vessel half that was in the ground was very badly damaged possibly due to the
bulldozer that scraped the topsoil off to expose the features beneath. During
the fall and winter the lab staff will reconstruct the pot. Again, there were
two post molds within the feature, and these were labeled post molds A and B of
Feature 239 S. These post molds, unlike the others, were not excavated due to
Feature 260 was excavated by Beth and Lauren. This feature was given a number
other than 239 because it was located in the northeast corner of the site just
outside of the house. At first this feature was thought to be a Woodland site,
which is older than the Oneota house. This feature was surrounded by dark stain
that may have been a possible midden
accumulation. A midden is an area where debris has accumulated on the surface,
rather than having been disposed of in a pit. This feature was also separated
into Area A and Area B just like feature 239 M. Area A of this feature was a
dark charcoal area. Area B is a lighter more mottled surrounding soil. The two
areas were excavated separately. Only a few artifacts were recovered from the
A few pieces of shell tempered pottery were found, which indicates that this
is in fact not a Woodland feature because Woodland people used sand or grit to
temper their pottery. A few pieces of grit-tempered pottery were recovered as
well, indicating dual occupancy of this area of the site, with the later
occupants incorporating some of the artifacts from the earlier occupation.
Feature 261 was located just outside of the house structure in the
southeastern corner near feature 239 M. This feature went down about 55 cmbss.
Mandy and Danielle who were part of MVACís college crew excavated the feature.
Unlike the Public Field School, this feature was excavated in 20 cm levels to
save time, as opposed to the more careful 5 cm levels the public field school
was using. Feature 261 was an oval shaped pit that contained a large amount of
pottery on the eastern side and numerous flakes in the center and western
portion of the feature. Most of the pottery was heavily burned and contained a
high degree of polishing. A Madison
Triangular point tip, some shell, and animal bone pieces that were in
poor condition were recovered. There was some burning going on at this pit and
it could possibly have been used for disposal of refuse after burning was done.
Post Mold 205
Gene had the opportunity to excavate post mold 205 that was a large center
post for the house. The reason this may have been a center post is because the
post stain shows it to be a large post mold compared to the post stains
outlining the house. This post mold was located just east of feature 239 K and
was aligned with the post mold found within feature 239 K. Post mold 205 went
down 40 cmbss and was very well defined. One piece of FCR and 1 pot sherd were
recovered. These items may have been thrown into the posthole for supporting the
wooden beam up.
Thanks to the help of these hard working public field school participants
MVAC was able to obtain a better understanding of Oneota houses and their usage.
The labor provided by the Public Field School enabled us to excavate many more
features and to do it more slowly and carefully than would otherwise have been
feasible for just the college crew. Their efforts have made a major contribution
to our understanding of the archaeology of the area. Thanks!
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by: Connie Arzigian, Research Archaeologist/Laboratory Director, Mississippi
Valley Archaeology Center
Starting in the middle of June the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Archaeology
Field School was very active at the Krause site. On a low terrace in
Onalaska twenty two college students in the Archaeological Studies Program learned
to be archaeologists by excavating a prehistoric Native American village.
Directed by James Theler and Robert Boszhardt, the students spent six
weeks at this site. After the completion of the UW-L Field School Connie
Arzigian directed a variety of
interested individuals including Middle School and High School students along
with members of the public in further excavations of the site.
Based on the kinds of ceramics
recovered, the site dates to
around 1500 AD. Several hundred "features" or
dark stains in the ground that represent places where the Native Americans dug
storage pits to store their corn, beans, and squash were identified.. These pits are usually
about 2-4 feet wide, and sometimes more than 3 feet deep. Once they had been
used as storage pits for a few seasons, they were often too dirty to reuse for
storage, and the local village garbage was dumped into them. For archaeologists,
this garbage provides our best clues to daily life in the past. We found
hearths lined with burnt limestone and filled with ashes. There were fragments of
pottery and digging tools thrown in them, along with lots of charcoal and animal
bones such as fish heads that were tossed into the fire, and have been
Triangular arrow points
The archaeologists found pottery that had been tempered with shell, and
decorated with various kinds of lines and dots decorating the rims. There were end
scrapers used to scrape deer hides, an awl, grinding stones, and
triangular arrow points. The people used the shoulder blades from buffalo to make digging
tools or hoes. We found a number of these tools all worn down and discarded
in pits or in the fireplaces.
Bison shoulder blade
The archaeologists used everything from a bulldozer to remove the plow
zone, shovels to gently skim thin layers of soil from the pits, or trowels,
bamboo picks and paint brushes to expose and map all the artifacts. Each pit is
excavated in halves, with one half dug first, to provide a cross-section through
the pit. This "profile" will help to identify the different kinds of
activities involved. Every 10 cm level of every pit feature was mapped, and
the profile was carefully mapped and photographed, with the soils and artifacts
described. In one place the people appear to have cleaned out a hearth and
dumped the ashes in a pit. The garbage in another pit
lookedlike the remains of
a fish boil.
Most of the soil was screened through 1/4 inch screens to recover the
artifacts. But in addition to the more obvious artifacts, the archaeologist took "flotation" samples (bags of dirt from the features) to
recover the very small things that are at the site, including the charred wood,
corncobs, other seeds, and all of the small fish bones, crawfish remains, and
other things that people ate, as well as the tiny flakes from their stone tool
manufacture. Well over a ton of soil was brought back to the
Archaeology Lab at the University. The samples will be processed this fall and
get a more complete picture of the past.
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