The Valley View site was UWL’s first local archaeology project. In 1978, four years before MVAC was created, topsoil removal for construction of the Valley View Mall exposed the well-preserved remains of a late precontact Oneota village. Local collectors familiar with the area’s plowed fields knew the location as a “hot spot” for artifacts. Jim Gallagher, a faculty member at UWL, gathered students and volunteers to map the site and conduct limited excavations. Jim also contacted UW-Madison, where two archaeology graduate students, Kathy Stevenson and Jim Theler, agreed to analyze some of the plant and animal remains.
The Valley View excavation focused on the part of the site that would be destroyed by mall construction. The project uncovered nearly three hundred Oneota pit features (refuse or storage pits) filled with animal bone, charred plant remains, pottery, and stone tools and debris. Traces of a palisade around the village also were discovered. Large, garbage-filled pits inside the palisade wall might have been borrow pits for mounding dirt along the palisade.
The animal remains at Valley View showed the typical Oneota mix of large and small game, agriculture, and heavy use of floodplain resources. With few overlapping pit features, and abundant remains of fish, mussels, turtles, and other river and wetland resources, the site seemed to reflect a short-term, warm-season occupation. Flotation led to the recovery of fragile crayfish shell and eggshell fragments—an unusual find, and a great seasonal indicator.
Oneota sites in the La Crosse area date from about A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1625. How does Valley View fit in? Radiocarbon dates from the early 1600s place Valley View at the end of the Oneota occupation. Similar Oneota sites across the Mississippi River in Minnesota are later and have European trade goods. The abundant plant and animal remains at Valley View, and the presence of materials from other regions, show no signs that its people were under stress. Yet the presence of a palisade, especially in an easily defended location, suggests that they wanted to be able to defend themselves. Perhaps they were feeling the effects of European contact in other regions, decades before Europeans actually reached the La Crosse area.
After the field school and the volunteer excavation were over, the crew and equipment trailer headed back to campus, and the bulldozer started stripping away part of the site. Kathy Stevenson coaxed Jim Gallagher into letting her sample one more feature. Field school student Rita Landgraf stood guard as Kathy excavated and the bulldozer got closer. The feature was a deep, bell-shaped storage pit with a cluster of pottery at the very bottom. The pottery turned out to be the only reconstructable pot from the site—now on display at the Archaeology Center and Laboratories on the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse campus.
Valley View was UWL’s first major excavation—and the beginning of years of work on local Oneota sites that lay in the path of development. Fortunately, part of the Valley View site was left in place and is still preserved today. The excavation yielded a tremendous amount of information that has helped us understand how people lived four centuries ago.