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Bone tools shed light on daily life 1,000 years ago at prehistoric village

Cindy Gregg, executive director of the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, inspects bone tools recently found inside the Thomsen Center Archeodome. (Jake Shama / Republic)1 / 3
Bone tools, charcoal and part of a lodge structure are pictured inside the Thomsen Center Archeodome on Thursday at the Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell. (Jake Shama / Republic)2 / 3
Bone tools, charcoal and part of a lodge structure are pictured inside the Thomsen Center Archeodome on Thursday at the Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell. (Jake Shama / Republic)3 / 3

MITCHELL, S.D. — One day frozen in time.

That's how an official at Mitchell's Prehistoric Indian Village described the site's latest finding.

This week, students from Augustana University in Sioux Falls and the University of Exeter in England uncovered six bison scapula hoes, a bone scraper and an unknown stone tool.

Similar tools have been found at the site before, but never so many in one cluster. The location of these items is what stood out to Cindy Gregg, executive director of the site, as they were found inside a lodge that burned to the ground approximately 1,000 years ago.

"These were probably leaning up against the lodge wall or perhaps just laid down on the ground, and when the lodge wall collapsed into the lodge, of course they were damaged, but they were also preserved forever," Gregg said.

The tools were found nearby another collection of fire-cracked stone tools discovered four years ago. At the time, archaeologists believed the fire was an unplanned event, and Gregg said the new discovery confirms the theory.

The Indian Village often finds tools and other items discarded in trash pits, while lodges are commonly empty, but the most recent find gives archaeologists the chance to learn more about everyday life in the village.

"This find is not unlike those found at sites like Pompeii, where artifacts are preserved just as they were originally placed by the person or persons using them," said Adrien Hannus, lead archaeologist at the site, in a written statement.

Hannus was referring to the eruption of a volcano, Mount Vesuvius, that destroyed the Roman town of Pompeii and preserved everything under ash.

"Everything that happened in that one day stopped right then and is immortalized by this volcano," Gregg said. "Well this is essentially the same thing. The fire burned down the lodge and stopped everything that was going on in that lodge that one day."

While she's excited about the find, Gregg said there is still more investigating to be done. The site will look into organization inside the ancient structure and will continue to excavate the lodge.

The Augustana and Exeter students are on a field trip to archaeological sites in the Black Hills and Wyoming, but Gregg said they'll return to excavation on Monday before heading home on Wednesday.

But even after the current crop of archaeology students leave, the story isn't over for the site's burnt lodge.

"We're definitely going to look into it some more," Gregg said. "We've got more of that lodge to uncover in the future."

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