Skip to main content

Accessibility menu

Skip to main content Skip to footer

Rock-solid research

Posted 2:24 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024

From left, UWL archaeology students Madeline Meltesen and Sabrina Neurock, along Heather Walder, assistant teaching professor of archaeology, look at pieces of quartz from the shores of Lake Superior that were manipulated to demonstrate methods that people used to make stone tools in the past.

UWL seniors uncover cultural insights on Red Cliff Reservation, present findings at state Capitol

UW-La Crosse Senior Sabrina Neurock was so excited when she found the teacup. Buried in the dirt on an archaeological dig site on the Red Cliff Reservation, its white, ceramic edges were poking out from just below the surface of the earth. 

The teacup was tiny, but its potential meaning was significant. It could help tell the story of the persistence of the Ojibwe people during a time of oppression more than 100 years ago.  

Neurock and UWL Senior Madeline Meltesen, both archaeological studies majors, are conducting archaeology-related research to learn about people who have lived along the shores of Lake Superior for thousands of years, bringing the past to life for the Indigenous communities there today. They will share their work with legislators at the State Capitol during Research in the Rotunda Wednesday, March 6. They are two of the six UWL students presenting posters at the event.  

Heather Walder, assistant teaching professor of archaeology, is Neurock and Meltesen’s faculty mentor who co-directs an initiative, called Gete Anishinaabe Izhichigéwin [Ancient Anishinaabe Lifeways] Community Archaeology Project (GAICAP) with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Mr. Marvin DeFoe and a colleague Associate Professor John L. Creese, of North Dakota State University. Together they are investigating both ancient and recent historic archaeological sites on the Red Cliff Reservation to better understand and protect these significant and sacred places.  

The meaning of a teacup

UW-La Crosse Senior Sabrina Neurock, an Archaeological Studies and Spanish major, at the excavation unit where she discovered the teacup. She is mapping the wall of the excavation unit to record the stratigraphy and features inside.

Neurock explains that the teacup she uncovered on the Red Cliff Reservation is thought to have come from a child of an American Indian agent, a government agent who was living on the Red Cliff Reservation perhaps 120 years ago. Indian agencies were often part of government policies that sought to assimilate Native American people, irradicating their language and culture. The cup could help approximate the location of the American Indian Agency structure in Red Cliff. Not only that, because the teacup was mixed in the same level of earth as stone tools used by Ojibwe people, it tells a story of a continuity of Indigenous cultural practices through colonial occupations.  

“It shows the greater public that indigenous communities weren’t just submissive to colonialism and assimilation, and I think that is really important,” says Neurock. 

Using digital assets to make archaeological predictions 

UWL senior Madeline Meltesen, an Archaeological Studies major, excavating at an archaeological site in 2023  as part of the Geté Anishinaabe Izhichigéwin Community Archaeology Project (GAICAP) in Red Cliff, Wisconsin. Meltesen is also earning several minors including one in geoarchaeology, history and earth science, along with a GIS certificate.

UWL senior Madeline Meltesen’s research is on the same reservation, but it dives further back in time and makes some predictions for the future. Meltesen has been studying ancient material — the oldest dating back more than 5,000 years — on the Frog Bay archaeological site, located within Frog Bay Tribal National Park, in Red Cliff, WI. She aims to better understand how Indigenous people used this area by evaluating tiny rocks and flakes pulled from hundreds of shovel tests in the area.  

While Meltesen is skilled in analyzing the past, she is also using technology to look ahead. She is using GIS software to create a map of the various shovel test pits on the reservation and look for patterns that could help archaeologists decide on future dig sites.  

She has also been working on a predictive model to locate other areas where they may find archaeological material. She uses environmental factors such as the slope of the land and distance from the water’s edge to analyze poor, moderate or good conditions for a civilization to take hold. Several human occupations have been found in the Frog Bay site already. “Clearly it was a great place to live because people kept coming back,” she says. 

After graduation, Meltesen plans to attend the University of York in the U.K. to earn a master’s in digital archeology. She says research experience has played a pivotal role in her preparation. 

“It has definitely helped me learn how to develop my own project and present it,” says Meltesen. “I’m interested in pursuing a position in education in the future, and this experience has also helped me learn how to communicate information to people who aren’t archaeologists.” 

Student ideas for research projects typically start with informal conversations with faculty, explains Walder. Over the years, as students identify and hone their interests and skills, they determine their thesis topic and then conduct real research on it, a requirement for all Archaeology and Anthropology majors. For three years now, students conducting archaeological field research on the Red Cliff Reservation have presented at Research in the Rotunda.  

“I love working with these thesis students,” says Walder.  


Share your news suggestions

Submit your news suggestions using UWL Share by no later than noon on Wednesdays preceding the next Monday's edition.

For more information, contact University Marketing & Communications at 608.785.8487.