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Archaeologists seek the valley’s first people

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Archaeologists seek the valley’s first people
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ODESSA — It has long been known that the state’s first inhabitants made the Minnesota River Valley their home since the days when a catastrophic outburst flood created it.


Soon it may be possible to learn more about where the early peoples made their villages in the river valley during different periods since that event, what they were doing in the different periods, and perhaps, just how long ago that catastrophic event actually was.

Archaeologists hope that a site to be excavated this September near Odessa could prove to be one of the earliest occupied sites since the big flood that created the Minnesota River Valley, according to Scott Anfinson, state archaeologist and a Benson native.

Anfinson said Legacy Amendment funding is helping make possible the survey work in the valley to locate some of the earliest sites.

Much of the previous archaeological work in the Minnesota River Valley has involved sites atop the river bluffs. The lowland sites are more difficult to find and work, Anfinson said, and the availability of the Legacy funding — sales tax funds OK’d by voters in 2008 and dedicated to things such as cultural preservation — are making it possible to contract for survey work to locate sites in the valley.

The site to be examined soon near Odessa was originally discovered in the 1970s as part of survey work involved with the development of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.

A fluted projectile point was discovered there in the 1970s. This suggests the site could have been inhabited 12,000 years ago or earlier, when mastodons and other megafauna would have been hunted.

A multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, geomorphologists and paleoecologists — who are knowledgeable in early soils and plants — will be examining the site.

Since it is very difficult to find datable material from an outburst flood, Anfinson said the actual date has not been known of the original dam burst that led to the valley’s creation.

If the site to be examined yields artifacts and materials that can be dated, a better idea may be gained of when the valley was created and how the earliest people lived.He believes that the findings could push back by 500 or 1,000 years the date it is believed the big flood occurred.

Anfinson said he is very excited about the upcoming dig, but also cautious. While the site seems to hold much promise, there is no way to know until the excavation is well underway if it actually holds the artifacts and materials that the fluted projectile point suggests it could. This could also prove to be like the television show that featured the opening of one of Al Capone’s safes, only to disappoint when it proved to be empty.

On the other hand, if nature has been kind and the site and its artifacts have been preserved, expect to hear about it. “If we hit something that yes, this is the site, we’d call a press conference for that,’’ Anfinson said.

Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335