Between the Missouri National Guard’s Ike Skelton Training Center and Algoa Correctional Center, out in a field on Guard property and about a meter beneath the surface of the earth lie the possible remnants of a Native American settlement.
The site is believed to have been occupied off-and-on as early as about 800 A.D. until about 1200 A.D. according to Regina Meyer, Cultural Resource Manager for the Guard. Meyer has a background in archaeology and has been doing unfunded work there on a volunteer basis.
She says the village was what archaeologists call a “multi-component site: It was used and abandoned, used and abandoned and over the years…I’m talking many years…people would pick up the habitation again. The layers would deposit on top of each other, and you’d have some flooding because it is right on the (Missouri) River in the bottomland.”
Only a few, one meter square pits have been opened. Meyer says its overall size remains unknown, but she guesses it takes up about 20 acres of the 80 acre field.
The people there were most likely living by hunting, fishing and gathering, and using the nearby Missouri River for transportation. Digs have turned up hearths, trash pits and artifacts as much as three feet down, which Meyer says indicates long-term occupation. “If we can just locate some post molds, I think we’ll have our proof.” Those molds would be evidence of homes or other more permanent structures.
What’s been found
Most of those artifacts have been churned up by 70 years of farming; in part of that time by the inmates at Algoa.
Still, Meyer says a lot of interesting artifacts have been revealed including arrowheads, ceramics and faunal remains, which provide evidence of what food the people ate. Stone tools include drills, scrapers for treating animal hides, and a spokeshave which is used to straighten wooden shafts for use in things such as arrows. She estimates about 40 tools have been found, along with the flakes of chert that result from production.
The amount of pottery coming from the site is the most Meyer says she has seen from any Guard property in the state. “The amount that we get from each unit in each level, the largest percentage of artifacts we have is ceramic…the ceramic pottery. And, the different types with the different decorations is quite a lot.”
No human remains have been discovered, and Meyer does not anticipate finding any.
The village isn’t the oldest site on the Guard’s property in the area. Meyer says higher up and further away from the River is a place that was used by humans in the Early Archaic period (ca 7500-6000 B.C.).
It was studied three years ago and yielded a few artifacts. Meyer says, “It was probably intermittently used…seasonal. It wasn’t a permanent site. More the hunter-gather culture. It wasn’t really closely related to the site below.” Its presence says something about the overall property, however. “The area is an excellent area for food procurement and travel, once again, with the Missouri River right there.”
Teaching tomorrow’s archaeologists
Meyer is involving area youth in her work. In each of the last two autumns, she and others have worked in the field for about a week at a time. After excavation pits are opened up and the material from them is gathered into five gallon buckets, students from area middle schools sift through it to recover the artifacts. “Then they have the excitement and the education of seeing the artifacts for the first time. We teach them about what archaeology is and all the methodology involved with it.”
As for the site’s long-term future, Meyer hopes to continue bringing students out for the field school. “Archaeology is the educational tool for our future. If students know how to protect archaeological sites and know our history and our past, then I think it’s wonderful.”
However, if the funding were provided Meyer would like to expand the work to “…a true phase 1 archaeological site to know the boundaries of the site and find more information, and have something officially written up. But, I’d always like to offer the educational outlet for the students”
Teachers who would like the opportunity to bring a class to the site should contact the museum or the Environmental Office at the Missouri Army National Guard.
Those who want to see the artifacts will find them at the museum on the Training Center grounds. See a few of them in the picture set below (click the button in the lower-right to see a full screen picture viewer).