Students, KSU profs search Leavenworth County archaeological site for artifacts
Seven student-archaeologists have toiled the past two weeks, excavating a site where two years ago rushing floodwater provided a glimpse at life more than 700 years ago.
In 2001, flooding in Leavenworth County uncovered a site that eventually would include remnants of a house, as well as other artifacts left by Indians from the Steed-Kisker era.
"For me, it's been a dream-come-true," said Brad Logan, a Kansas State University anthropologist. "I'm thrilled with what we've been finding out there."
Logan has led the team of college students in the Kansas Archaeological Field School, a three-week opportunity for field work. Logan and the students are staying at the Tonganoxie Historic Site each evening and driving to the dig site each day.
During a recent workday, the students had the chance to talk with the Tonganoxie man who actually discovered the significant site. In fact, the Scott site is named for him.
The students gathered around the bed of Scott DeMaranville's pickup truck as he pulled wooden case after wooden case out of the cab. The boxes were filled with artifacts, including arrow points, knives and scrapers, that DeMaranville had found at several sites near Tonganoxie.
"The main reason I brought it out is so you can know what it looks like and what's out here," DeMaranville said.
One purpose of the field school, which is funded by a grant from the Kansas State Historical Society, is to help Logan nominate the Scott site to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation won't deter farming, for example, on the land. But it would require that if the federal government were to work on the land, the government would pay for archaeology work beforehand.
Logan's interest in Leavenworth County dates back to 1979, when he was pursuing a doctorate at Kansas University. He walked tilled fields, looking for indications of prehistoric artifacts. And he and DeMaranville hooked up during that time.
And now, Logan, who is a research associate professor at Kansas State University, is focusing on the site near Tonganoxie. Shortly after the June 2001 flooding, Logan received a call from DeMaranville, who found artifacts on the surface.
Logan visited the site and soon returned with a team of workers that uncovered a house that dates back 750 years and had been inhabited by Indians from the Steed-Kisker phase. Apparently, the home burned after it had been abandoned because the volunteers unearthed charred timbers, along with pottery and tools. The wood and grass home is the only Steed-Kisker discovered in Kansas. A total of 12 others have been unearthed in Missouri.
Late last week, before rain temporarily stopped work at the site, Logan and the students happened upon an exciting area.
"It looks like we have another prehistoric house," Logan said.
They plan to excavate that site soon.
Although indications of people have been found, no bodies have been discovered.
"I have not been finding any human bone where we're digging," Logan said.
He has found, however, a six-inch, gray human hair.
"We were excited about that," he said.
Potentially, the hair can offer insight into the person's diet.
Rise, shine and sweat
For the students, the field school has meant rising at 6 a.m. and heading out to the site after a quick breakfast.
They eat lunch at the site. And during the day, they down plenty of water and Kool-aid.
About 3 p.m., they head back to their quarters at the Tonganoxie Historic Site -- where the women occupy the church basement and the men bunk in the barn.
During the hours before dinner, they clean up and write in their journals, a requirement of the field school, offered through KSU. They sharpen trowels and shovels, the tools of their trade.
For Luke Bockelman, a KSU student from Kansas City, Kan., the Leavenworth County dig is a chance to fulfill some graduation requirements -- outside the traditional classroom.
"It's good to get out here and see all the stuff I was reading about and studying," he said.
His partner for the morning, Julianne Condray, a KSU student from Pratt, said she'd never participated in a dig, even though she was a senior in anthropology.
"It's pretty fun, actually," she said. "It's hot and hard work and dirty, but it's fun when you find stuff."
A few minutes later, David Weber, a KSU student from Chicago, did find something -- and old bolt.
"That's cool," he said.
But not exactly what he and the others were searching for. But Weber and the other students did pull some artifacts out of the ground last week.
"I'm kind of disappointed we haven't found a whole lot," he said.
Weber, who is earning his bachelor's degree as a member of the U.S. Army, thinks working on the dig is a perfect complement to the degree in history he's pursuing.
"This is fascinating," he said. "I kind of see history and anthropology going hand-in-hand. To understand history, you have to understand the people in history."
As far as "roughing it" at the field school, Weber said he's seen far worse.
"It's actually a lot easier than I anticipated, " he said. "I've spent 14 years in the Army. ... The people at the historical society have gone out of their way to make us feel at home. They're just fantastic."