A Tracy treasure huntArchaeologists reap rewards near Lake Shetek
Though they found no gold, silver or jewels, archaeologists sifting through dirt for history found treasures galore at a pioneer farm site near Lake Shetek Saturday — two teeth, apparently human and black with age, a scrap of cloth, a tiny bone fragment and shards of old glass.
By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe
TRACY — Though they found no gold, silver or jewels, archaeologists sifting through dirt for history found treasures galore at a pioneer farm site near Lake Shetek Saturday — two teeth, apparently human and black with age, a scrap of cloth, a tiny bone fragment and shards of old glass.
“You’re sitting right in the middle of a known archaeological site,” said Sue Krook, professor of anthropology at Normandale Community College in Bloomingtom.
Krook and three other archaeologists chose to dig on the site of the old Hurd homestead, where a family of pioneers resided until Native Americans forced them out during the Dakota Conflict.
Now the land belongs to retired English teacher Jesse James, who knows much of its history on the pioneers’ side of the conflict.
James tells the story as follows:
Alomina Hurd and her two children were at home when the conflict began in 1862, along with Voight, a man who wanted to buy the Hurd site, James said. Early in the morning, a group of Dakota rode up, which wasn’t unusual. When Voight came out of the building, holding the baby, the Dakota shot him.
The other Dakota, who had been hiding behind the trees, rushed the cabin, destroying the Hurds’ possessions, but allowing Alomina to leave with her two children, provided she didn’t raise the alarm.
She was forbidden to fetch her bonnet, shawl, or clothes for the children. She spent a harrowing journey scavenging for food, desperately trying to keep the children warm and hoping the Dakota wouldn’t change their minds about letting her go.
Finally she met a mail carrier, who had two survivors of the Slaughter Slough attack with him, and they made it to safety. Alomina eventually went back east, where she married again — her husband, Phineas, who had been away from home during the conflict, was never found.
Artifacts from the Hurd cabin — tossed from the home and destroyed — could still be on James’ land, along with artifacts from the Dakota, who lived in the area before the settlers came, and even artifacts from further back, when the first Americans came across the land bridge from Asia and travelled south.
“There have been Native Americans here for at least 9,000 years,” said Pat Bonnie, Krook’s former student, who went on to earn a master’s degree in archaeology. “There’s several layers of archaeology here.”
Krook has visited the area three summers in a row to dig with her students, after she saw a newspaper article about a professional archaeological firm that found artifacts in the area dating to 400 B.C. After getting the enthusiastic permission of James, she and her students came to dig.
“We decided to come here because we can’t dig under the house,” Krook said. “This looks relatively undisturbed. It may be where the original cabin was.”
Real-life archaeology is a painstaking and exact science filled with careful examination of dirt and just about everything that can be found in dirt.
The first step in Saturday’s excavation was marking off a 1-meter trench oriented north-south and tracking its exact location using a global positioning system. Only then could the team begin to dig, tracking each object found on a piece of graph paper, which could be used later to recreate the trench in the lab.
The team used a variety of tools, some specific to archaeology, but mostly common household objects repurposed to dig for history. Hedge trimmers sliced away the tall grass. Heavy string tied to stakes marked off the trench. Steel trowels broke up the soil. A toothbrush took the dirt away from artifacts without breaking them. Water cleared away soil from rocklike artifacts.
Every bit of dirt taken from the trench was then sifted by two people, who examined the leftover clods, which several times yielded objects even the most eagle-eyed of the archaeologists missed.
“Today we found quite a bit — a tooth, a lot of glass. Now we’re coming across some small pieces of bones,” Krook said.
Dawn Whitney of Farmington, president of the Anthropology Club at Normandale, agreed with her professor.
“That looks like processed bone,” she said, passing the piece around to the others for a look.
Bonnie, Krook and Jodi Peterson of Bloomington, another of Krook’s students, each examined the tiny fragment, offering explanations of what it could have been.
In an earlier expedition, Krook and her students found a piece of pottery dating to 200 BC, according to the state archaeologist.
Saturday’s most intriguing find was two teeth, both dark with age and both apparently human.
“It could be an individual,” Krook said. “When you find two teeth, you think it’s not random.”
Bonnie pointed out that the dirt level was still too shallow to be a grave — unless, of course, someone was in a hurry.
“You can’t help but get caught up in it,” James said, watching the archaeologists at work. “Part of what I learn is that I find the obvious, but what I consider to be a piece of dirt? It could be something else.”