It’s no secret that people have lived here for a long time. How long is a matter of some debate, but there’s no doubt people have been here for at least 10,000 years.
Our knowledge of the past is limited even under the best of circumstances. And while the invention of writing has done much to allow us to look backward in time, here in theAmericasvery few tribes ever developed writing. The Maya of theYucatanwere about the only ones who did, yet Spanish monks burned most of their books, depriving us of most of what history was recorded. (The Inca of Peru claimed to have once had writing but to have abandoned its use after their gods inflicted a plague as punishment for their literacy.)
Most of the history of theAmericashas had to be pieced together from the archaeological record. And with 10,000 years or more of history lying in the soil, much has been discovered. But no one knows how much has yet to be found. Theories can only be formed from the evidence at hand; given that not all evidence has been discovered yet, theories must remain just that – theories.
I’ve been reminded of this just recently. As I’ve mentioned in past columns, there are a number of Native American remains on our property, the bulk of which appear to date from a period about a thousand years ago. This estimation is based on the style of the artifacts and the alignment to the horizon of a particular mound – the star it presumably pointed towards doesn’t rise there now, but did a millennia ago.
Erosion has already claimed at least one earthlodge site on our property and currently threatens another. Both were built on a high bank above the Beaver Creek. Over time this bank has caved away.
In order to learn what can be learned from the remaining lodge, three archaeologists from the Nebraska State Historical Society recently began a salvage excavation. They started by laying out a grid of 1 meter by 1 meter squares. They then began digging down into these squares in 10 centimeter increments, screening the soil for artifacts as they went.
These archaeologists took pains to show my family and me how this process is done so that we can carry on the salvage work between their visits. We have a lot of plastic bags for artifacts that we’ll label according to grid location, depth and date. In time what is found will be put on display in the Boone County museum.
We had to first build a screen, though, before we could dig. We modeled it on the archaeologists’ screen which included handles and a folding support. We just guessed at the dimensions.
Excavating is slow work, but we’ve already found evidence that this lodge is not nearly as old as the artifacts we’ve found elsewhere on the farm. We’ve found a large square nail and fragments of white porcelain mixed in with broken pottery and a large arrowhead. Whoever lived in this lodge had access to at least some manufactured goods, so it has to date from the past few centuries.
And so we now know that Native Americans lived on our farm at least two different times, times separated by hundreds of years. And while it will take a while for this story to fully emerge, it’s fascinating to watch it slowly appear in the bottom of our home made screen. And it’s a reminder that no matter how much we know, there’s always more to learn.