ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW) - An archaeological dig in Onalaska is giving scientists a glimpse into the past.
Connie Arzigian, an archaeologist with UW La Crosse, says while the artifacts that have been found at this site have been a surprise, the site itself was not. "We knew back in the 1880s that there was an archaeological site under Onalaska, because during the original construction of the city sewer lines and roads people were finding artifacts. So we knew that when they were going to redo this road that we were going to find something. We didn't know what. But we knew there was a site here."
For weeks, a team of Archaeologists from UW La Crosse have been working to preserve this piece of Coulee Region history. "We're digging an Oneota village from about 500 to 700 years ago," says Chad Heemstra, Assistant Archaeologist. "We're digging up material that they left over so when they build the new road they don't destroy everything."
Arzigian says normally these kind of sites are left alone. But the reconstruction of Highway 35 threatened to destroy the remains of this ancient settlement. "If things aren't going to be disturbed, there's no reason for us to disturb them. If they're safe under buildings or under other areas, fine. We're only excavating those things that are going to be disturbed by the road construction."
So far scientists have unearthed pottery shards, bone fragments, refuse piles, and possibly human remains. Arzigian says compared to other archaeological locations in the area, this site paints a much clearer picture of prehistoric life. "This site is one of the best preserved ones we've found in the city. There are a number of these sites in the city, most of them have been under plowed fields. In this case the features are intact. They're covered by road fills but when you take the road off they're right there where everything was left 700 years ago."
The excavation was required under state and federal regulations and Arzigian says it had been worked into the construction schedule since the project started. "It's not going to take longer for the construction because we're working within the construction schedule. They've opened up this area for us to do the excavation while they're busy somewhere else." Archaeologists and the Department of Transportation continue to work together to insure both the excavation and construction get done on time.
Archaeologists have already excavated the north bound lanes and will remain on the site for another 2 or 3 weeks to finish the south bound lanes. They will then spend the next 3 to 5 years analyzing and cataloging their findings.
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