Sunday, August 21, 2011


University of Iowa archaeologists announced the discovery of a 7,000-year-old archaeological site in Des Moines (Iowa, USA). The site, nicknamed 'the Palace' because of its size and preservation, yielded the remains of two humans, a woman and an infant, that are the oldest human bones to be found in the state.

"This site is important because it was intensively occupied and very quickly river floods sealed the deposits and very quickly preserved items that otherwise could have been lost" according to State Archaeologist John Doershuk. Because so many items were found together at the site - archaeologists gathered more than 6,000 artifacts - it helps researchers put into context the information they learn about how the villagers lived, what they ate and how they were developing as a people, Doershuk added.

Construction work was ongoing at the site, when workers moving dirt noted charcoal and burned earth stains, Doershuk said. The Office of the State Archaeologist, was called to the site in December 2010 to monitor the work and investigate interesting findings. Archaeologists worked through May to collect as much information and as many artifacts as possible before construction work had to return to that portion of the site.

They found the remnants of four oval-shaped deposits, possibly houses, as large as 800 square feet with hearths. "It became clear very quickly that the site was something spectacular - something none of us had seen before or probably will ever again, as well-preserved house deposits of this age are extremely rare west of the Mississippi River Valley," Bill Whittaker, a project archaeologist who co-directed the dig, said.

The burial pit was discovered in March, about six or seven feet below the ground surface. Items were found in the grave along with the remains, including a spear point. The age of the site was determined by radiocarbon dating based on wood charcoal from the burial feature and also the spear point found there, by matching it to the time frame of other similar artifacts found in the Midwest, Doershuk said.

The crew also used laser technology to map more than 12,000 archaeological data points so they can develop 3-D models of the site with computer software.

"The field work is done... but we have at least a year's worth of analysis and writing and comparative work," Doershuk said. "All the artifacts will be officially stored at the archaeological depository at our office at UI, but we'll probably loan them out for display at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines and other locales.

While construction at the site continues, there is adjacent, unexcavated land that researchers believe will yield more archaeological finds, and they are working on a preservation plan.

Edited from The Gazette (18 August 2011), (19 August 2011)
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