Archaeologists to map county history
April 29. 2009 6:00AM
A group of archaeologists based at Augustana College will spend the next few months mapping the history of Lincoln, Union and Clay counties.
The ancient history.
Last year, Archaeologist Rob Bozell lead a team that mapped prehistoric Native American burial mounds in Minnehaha County. Now, Bozell’s team will look for burial sites in areas that once were home to thousands of native people whose history remains largely unknown.
“A lot of these mounds are prehistoric,” Bozell said. “That is, they built mounds, but we don’t know what tribe they belonged to – it’s just too long ago.”
The Minnehaha County pilot project identified mounds around the Big Sioux River and in undeveloped areas along the Big Sioux River from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
The end result was a set of GIS data for developers and planning offices to use when working on new construction projects. That data can help developers avoid building on burial grounds they otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.
“Native American cemeteries are no different than anyone else’s cemeteries,” Bozell said. “(Developers) realize that with a proactive approach, it’s pretty easy to work around them.”
The South Dakota State Historical Society pays for the studies, although data on the exact location of burial mounds will not be available through the Society’s Pierre museum or on its Web site. There are concerns about trespassing and robbery.
“You see vandalism at these sites all over the world,” Bozell said.
Once the Lincoln, Clay and Union county sites are mapped, the Society’s survey of lower half of the Big Sioux River will be finished. For the initial survey in Minnehaha County, the Historical Society paid about $50,000 to map out 20 known burial mounds, said SDSHS Archaeologist Amy Rubingh. The Big Sioux is known to be a popular location for the mounds.
This year’s work started with a list of 30 reported mounds – it is expected that more will be found – and has a budget of $75,000. After this study, Rubingh said, the group will hire archaeologists to look at the upper Big Sioux River, starting in Roberts and Grant counties.
While the SDSHS won’t make the maps, the surveys may give historians clues about how and why ancient burial sites were built where they were.
“With these surveys, we’re obviously trying to map them for development purposes, but we may be able to find patterns,” Rubingh said. “It may give us indicators as to where the mounds are most often built.”
The Society wants to add to the knowledge base about South Dakota’s ancient history, but practical concerns are front and center at the Lincoln County Planning and Zoning Office. That office is one that will have the detailed information contained in Bozell’s final report when it arrives in July.
There have been cases in the county where developers find bones unexpectedly, said Planning and Zoning Deputy Director Laurie Powell. State law prohibits the disruption of burial grounds and grave sites, regardless of their age.
“They’ll start digging and find a burial site,” Powell said. “It completely shuts down the plans.”
Developers can still build near burial sites if they know where the sites are beforehand, she said.
“Sometimes, with some innovative ideas, they can work around those things,” Powell said.
Pictured is an Indian burial mound along the Big Sioux River.