ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Onalaska has been a site for ancient civilizations for hundreds of years. One of these ancient sites was uncovered during the Highway 53 reconstruction project in Onalaska. Now, artifacts from this site are being painstakingly cleaned and categorized by Archaeologists at UW La Crosse's Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center.
Kathy Stevenson, projects director at the Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center said while the location of the site wasn't a surprise, the amount of artifacts they uncovered was.
"We went into the project knowing that there was a possibility of finding material there," said Stevenson. "But we really didn't know for sure whether anything would be intact and we certainly didn't expect there would be as much as there was."
Artifacts from this excavation date as far back as1300 AD, and is only one of several Oneota sites in the Onalaska area. Roughly 1500 bags of material were collected from ancient refuse pits at this location, as well as many animal bones, tools and pottery shards.
"It's a challenging project because we've recovered so much so fast," said Stevenson. "But we were already preparing for that while we were out in the field we were thinking how we were going to deal with all the material when it was back in the lab."
And the excavation is only the beginning of the process. Paper work has to be filled out, and the artifacts have to be cleaned, sorted, analyzed and cataloged.
"There's basic housekeeping to do," said Stevenson. "We have to make sure all of our paperwork is in order because everything that we've brought in we have detailed documentation on exactly where we found it. And then we have to makes sure that everything is clean and dry and stable. And so that's what we've been working on as out highest priority for right now."
"It's actually a little overwhelming right now with all the materials that we have," said Wendy Holtz-Leith, research archaeologist with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center. "But, we have a lot of students from UW L who are archaeology majors who are hired to help us do all that. It's going to take a couple years to get everything processed. I mean, it's a lot more than you see out in the field."
Many of these artifacts are currently being cleaned and sorted through a process called floatation. This technique uses water and fine screens to collect and separate, tiny seeds and plant fragments. After they are sorted and dried it's time to analyze the data.
"What we do then is go through pretty much everything," said Holtz-Leith. "All the artifacts that we found, all the record that we kept on each of the features, where the artifacts came from. And then we try and kind of get a picture of really what was going on at that time period."
"It will take a while," said Stevenson. "There are different estimates for how much time it takes in the field vs how much time it takes to analyze it and write up what you've found. And we'll be working on this for several years."
Right now, archaeologists can't make too many conclusions about the site.
"We'll know more, I think, as we put the pieces together and compare what we found here with some of the other local sites. And we are seeing some pottery that is different from what we've seen before. But again, it's in such an early stage that we really haven't had much chance to look yet."
But in many ways, we aren't so different from these ancient inhabitants.
"It's good to, you know, realize that you weren't the first people here," said Holtz-Leith. "There were people here tens of thousands of years ago. You know, living the same ways that we're trying to. I mean, these people are growing corn. And that‘s the main crop around here now."
This was also a recorded burial site and human remains were uncovered during the excavation. These remains were surrendered to the Wisconsin Historical Society. After the artifacts are processed and analyzed, the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center plans to have educational seminars to share their findings with the public.
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