|Although winter has brought the outdoor
research/excavation work to a standstill, Fort McCoy’s archaeologists
continue to perform important data analysis and provide input to
installation programs and to the surrounding communities and state
Tim Dahlen, an archaeologist with
the Fort McCoy Natural Resources Branch, sorts through artifacts
recovered during field work in 2011. Dahlen is contracted
through Colorado State University.
(Photo by Rob Schuette)
Stephen Wagner, installation Cultural Resources Project Manager, and
Tim Dahlen, archaeologist, said their work is governed by the National
Historic Preservation Act and the National Register of Historical
Places. Both Wagner and Dahlen are contracted employees with Colorado
State University, which provides archaeological support to the Fort
McCoy Natural Resources Branch (NRB).
Regulation requires federal agencies, such as Fort McCoy, to take into
account actions on significant historical properties before pursuing any
projects or other types of work on the land, Wagner said. In Fort
McCoy’s instance, the historic significance often includes the lives of
prehistoric Native Americans. Several years ago, for example, a piece of
pottery thought to date back about 2,000 years was discovered.
About 5,000 acres of Fort McCoy is inventoried each year. Priorities are
assigned for areas to be inventoried based upon construction projects
scheduled for the next year and Army training needs. Wagner said 2011
fieldwork also involved the excavation of 20 sites deserving of further
research to determine historical value.
“We are charged with finding historical properties,” Wagner said. “When
we find them, we determine the significance of the sites by finding
meaningful data on historical events, and if there is something worth
Currently, the archaeology section is evaluating the materials collected
last year. Wagner said the items are cleaned and cataloged. He and
Dahlen will document and incorporate findings into a report to be sent
to the State Historic Preservation Office. The information is first sent
to the NRB chief for any input and forwarded to the Environmental
Division chief for review. The archaeological items collected are sent
to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Archaeological program for
curation, or storage and display purposes.
“We use several methods to determine the significance of the artifacts,”
Wagner said. “We can compare it to known, or identified, findings of
archaeological material. If we need to use radio carbon dating
techniques, we send it out to a laboratory off post.”
Dahlen serves as the field supervisor for the work done during the
spring and summer months. The season roughly runs from the conclusion of
the school/academic year to about the time of the Gun-Deer Season in
November. The work crew includes experienced archaeologists as well as
archaeology students, who often are seeking field experience, he said.
In contrast to the rather large piece of pottery discovered several
years ago, many of the items found during archaeological research are
much smaller, in many instances a small flake or sliver of material.
“It’s a very labor-intensive process to unearth the artifacts, wash
them, analyze them, and get them ready for curation,” Dahlen said. “The
material often is very brittle, and we don’t want to break anything.”
Geographic Information System maps are used to pinpoint specific areas
to inventory, he said. Sites that are determined to be historically
significant are placed off limits to uses that would damage them, he
Wagner said the National Historic Preservation Act allows them to
provide the necessary protection for a historical site without having to
go through the necessary procedures involved in a formal designation on
the National Register of Historic Places.
The pair is planning for the next field season. Preparation includes
ensuring any equipment is serviceable and clean. Personnel to assist
them with the field work will be identified and contacted, and a
schedule and location of inventory work will be established and the
cycle is ready to begin anew, Wagner said.