The Duluth Archaeological Center is conducting a survey for the Office of the State Archaeologist that will result in a number of test digs along the North Shore. According to Sue Mulholland of the Archaeology Center, they’ll be looking for prehistoric sites where glacial lakes were present between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. She told Cook County commissioners Tuesday the state database has little information from the North Shore.
Mulholland: The whole objective of this survey and the funds that are coming are to find more sites for the database, because there is only 19 prehistoric archaeological sites that have been reported, all the way from Grand Portage down to Duluth.
The method Mulholland will use is simple and low-tech: no equipment bigger than a shovel.
Mulholland: We dig a hole. It’s about 12 to 18 inches in diameter, as deep as you can get it. There’s a lot of bedrock out here, so sometimes it goes very shallow. The sediment is screened, we have a small screen with quarter-inch mesh. So, the dirt goes through and the gravel gets left and that’s what we look through for broken stones, tools, broken pots, various things. Once we’re done with that hole, the dirt goes right back into it. And, in many cases, my crew has plastic with them so that the dirt that gets screened out of the plastic gets dumped into the hole. If there was a sod layer to begin with, that’s removed as a chunk, set aside, and then put back on top. Our purpose here is to just do a sample of what’s under the ground to see if there’s any buried archaeological sites, and then to return the surface as near as possible to what it looked like beforehand.
Commissioner Jim Johnson voiced his support for the project, but also concern about land use in the future.
Jim Johnson: I think all of us think it’s nice to know some of this historical stuff, but I think the county fears, you know, that once something is identified as being significant, than they will restrict the use of that land in many ways that could harm us economically or in some other way. So, that’s kind of what’s guiding this discussion.
Johnson cited wetland and habitat restrictions already in place and was concerned archaeological sites might be another hoop to jump through. Mulholland said knowledge of sensitive sites could actually be an advantage.
Mulholland: If I might suggest this is a hoop you’ll have to jump through anyway if you have federal funds or a federal license involved in this future development project you’re talking about, they’re going to ask, “has the such-and-106 process to determine if there are cultural properties out there that might be affected by whatever the project is, has that been completed?” And here you have a chance to be proactive, at least for these parcels, at no expense to the county, to see if there are any archaeological sites.
Mulholland said the digs will begin immediately and, as weather permits, start again before the end of May next year.