GARRISON -- On the west shore of Mille Lacs, within sight of Highway 169, fragments of an ancient culture are being unearthed.
Pottery, stone tools and arrowheads used 2,000 years ago by Mdewakanton Indians are being uncovered at a site on Wigwam Bay. Soon a sewer line and lift station will be installed on the site, but before then archaeologists will collect artifacts they say will paint a picture of daily life in a period of local history that little is known about.
"It was a time when a lot of religious and cultural change was taking place," said David Mather, lead archaeologist for the Mather Heritage Group of Minneapolis. "This was when burial mounds were first being used in this area. Trade was going on with tribes in other parts of the country, some from as far away as the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico. Five hundred years later that trade had stopped and the tribes became more culturally entrenched."
More than 20,000 artifacts have been found so far. Others from this period have been found elsewhere around the lake, but most were mixed with artifacts from later periods. Here, in a space no bigger than a small garage, are a large number of artifacts from a single period, the Middle Woodland Era, dating from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. Among the unusual items are small stone weights used to anchor fishing nets -- evidence that Mille Lacs fish already were a valuable source of food at that time.
Archaeologists working here nearly 100 years ago, mapped locations of burial mounds and wrote of an ancient village. Thus, when work on the sewer line was scheduled to begin the Corps of Engineers knew the site had artifacts and that now was the last chance to recover them. Construction of the sewer line and lift station won't begin until the dig is completed in August.
"We won't get everything," Mather said, "but we'll get a representative sample. What's ironic is that Mille Lacs has seen more archaeology than most areas of the state, yet we know few details about daily life here. This will be a defining dig."
Artifacts will be carbon dated and eventually turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society.
VINCE MEYER can be contacted at 855-5862 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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