Predicting Archaeological Site Locations in
La Crosse County, Wisconsin
by: Connie Arzigian, Research
Archaeologist/Laboratory Director, Mississippi Valley Archaeology
Center and Jean Dowiasch, Educational Coordinator, Mississippi
Valley Archaeology Center
Thanks to a grant awarded by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the
Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center developed an archaeological model of
La Crosse County, predicting where unknown prehistoric sites may exist.
This predictive model was created using a Geographic Information System
(GIS) to view important environmental factors such as soil type, slope,
distance to water and elevation throughout the county. Using known site
locations and knowledge of the La Crosse area, a map of
"archaeologically sensitive areas" was generated and made
accessible to the La Crosse County Land Information and Zoning Department.
The county can use this map for planning purposes, and MVAC will use it to
choose areas to test in the future.
When the model was completed, MVAC staff took out school groups and
public volunteers to survey several areas likely to have intact cultural
remains. Artifacts were recovered from all nine of the locations surveyed
Areas Tested by Local School Groups
New Road/Meier Site
In the spring of 2002, MVAC was notified that a housing development was
planned for approximately 30 acres of land within the Sand Lake
Archaeological District near Onalaska. An archaeological site (New Road
Site, Lc-432) had been reported by MVAC in 1989, located in the northeast
corner of the acreage to be developed. The site consisted of lithic
materials and Oneota ceramics recovered from the surface of dunes on
either side of a road cut that had bisected the sand dune.
MVAC staff conducted several surveys of the area to determine the
extent of the site. As part of this grant, MVAC’s Education Program was
able to arrange for five school groups to survey the site in the spring of
2002. Students involved in the surveys were from the following schools:
Emerson Elementary, Longfellow Middle, and Lincoln Middle, all of La
Crosse; and Onalaska Middle School. Artifacts recovered from surface
collection and shovel testing include three Madison triangular points,
bifaces, scrapers, one drill, Oneota pottery, one piece of Catlinite, and
hundreds of chert and orthoquartzite flakes.
The 2002 UW-La Crosse Archaeological Field School will be conducted at
this site to recover more artifacts prior to development. The northern
portion of the site is not slated for construction this year, but should
be excavated prior to its development sometime in the next two-four years.
Van Wormer/Gilster Site
The Archaeology Education Program worked with teacher Tim Sprain from
Longfellow Middle School to include an archaeological survey in an
Environmental Day planned for April 2002. Under the direction of MVAC
staff, students participated in surface collection at the Van Wormer/Gilster
site (47Lc-286) near the village of West Salem (Figure 7). The field had
been fall plowed in 2001, and lightly disced in the spring of 2002. A
concentration of artifacts was recovered from the edge of a high terrace
overlooking Lake Neshonoc. This site was first reported to MVAC in 1986.
The collector reported that he had recovered points, bifaces, and flakes
from this site in the 1920s/1930s, but that the collection had been
stolen. Other than a piece of Oneota pottery, no diagnostic artifacts were
recovered by the students.
The Gilster 2 site lies east of the VanWormer/Gilster site, on a field
which had recently been plowed by the landowner. Artifacts from this site
were much less dense than those at the Van Wormer/Gilster site discussed
above. This field is higher in elevation and further from the lake.
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Volunteer Surveys With the Public
Over the past four years, MVAC staff have conducted a Volunteer Field
Survey during Wisconsin Archaeology Week, which is held in May of each
year. The Long Coulee area has been a focal point for the field surveys
due to its close proximity to the village of Holmen, which is experiencing
urban growth. It is expected that much of the Long Coulee area will be
developed in the next ten to fifteen years, and in fact several housing
developments are already in place in the coulee. As part of the 2002
Wisconsin Archaeology Week event, MVAC staff and volunteers surveyed four
known sites in Long Coulee and recorded another site from a Long Coulee
The Lee site was first reported to MVAC in 1989 by an area collector.
This site was again surveyed during the 2002 MVAC Volunteer Field Survey.
Survey was completed of a plowed field. Artifacts were recovered from
existing site boundaries, as well as further south in the field. An update
expanding the site boundaries was sent to the Historic Preservation Office
at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Artifacts recovered from the site
consisted of a scattering of flakes.
Lee II Site
This site was briefly checked by two volunteers from the 2002 field
survey. Some flakes were recovered despite the fact that field conditions
were not ideal. The field had been plowed the week prior to survey, but
lack of rain had left the field pretty dusty.
This site lies nearest to Holmen of those tested, and is in fact
adjacent to a fairly new housing addition within the village. Flakes were
collected over the whole field, but artifacts were predominantly located
along the ridge to the east and north of Halfway Creek. This site was
reported this year as a result of the field survey.
Trocinski I is located north of Moe Coulee. The field was in small
soybeans and dusty, but clean of vegetation. A scattering of flakes was
recovered from the site, with a heavier concentration found east of the
Troncinski III lies north of Moe Coulee Road. Survey was conducted in a
corn field, with good visibility. Most of the material collected is
concentrated on the top and margins of the ridge overlooking Halfway
Creek, although a scattering of flakes was found throughout the field. A
wide range of lithic raw materials were represented, including a flake of
obsidian-opaque and cochrane chert (caramel and white/translucent), some
of which is head-treated. Several triangular points and end scrapers were
recovered, pointing to the Oneota culture. A possible Paleo component may
exist at the site, based on the raw material type.
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Phase II Testing
This site is located in a large flat field adjacent to a stream.
Initial survey in 1998 documented the presence of large bifaces of
orthoquartzite that suggested an early, possibly Paleoindian occupation.
In addition, the presence of a deep organic zone over clay suggested that
the soils might be late glacial or early post-glacial. Therefore, testing
was conducted in 2001 to evaluate whether any portion of the site existed
outside the plow zone.
An unsystematic surface collection of portions of the Stasiak II site
was undertaken on October 27, 2001. Because the field was still in
soybeans, there was limited visibility. Nevertheless, a number of large
bifaces were found on the surface, concentrated (or perhaps most visible)
near the creek. Notable are three biface fragments of large, thin,
well-made orthoquartzite and an orthoquartzite chopper that were clustered
in one area near the creek. The raw material is apparently local, as 1-2
foot long tablets were also found at the margin of the field, and smaller
slabs were found in the field.
A 1x2 meter unit was excavated near the location of the bifaces. The
plow zone was removed as one level, skim-shoveling and screening all soil
through 1/4 inch mesh. A total of 16 flakes were found in the plow zone,
all of the local orthoquartzite. The plow zone was approximately 16 cm
deep, with well-defined plow scars at the base. The second level was a
10-cm level into the subsoil, and found only 3 tiny flakes that probably
resulted from the extensive rodent runs in the subsoil. The subsoil had a
high clay content, with extensive rodent disturbances. It appears that the
plow zone has already incorporated the topsoil, B horizon, and some of the
C horizon sediments, resulting in limited potential for intact deposits.
The bank of the creek was examined, but there were limited areas of
exposure and no artifacts or features were visible. Additional shovel
tests near the unit suggested that there may be variable depths to the
clay, and possibly different deposits. Future work is suggested to attempt
to map the deposits and evaluate whether buried intact deposits may exist
elsewhere at the site. Otherwise, in the absence of intact deposits, the
site does not appear eligible to the National Register.
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