Fort McCoy News Aug. 25, 2017

30 years of archaeology builds foundation for more

For 30 years until 2016, phase I and phase II archaeological field investigations took place at Fort McCoy.

During this time, the work was conducted by government and contract personnel to systematically locate archaeological sites on Fort McCoy and then evaluate their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

"Over those past 30 years, archaeologists working at Fort McCoy recovered a rich cultural tapestry covering more than 10,000 years of human occupation in the Fort McCoy area," said Alexander Woods, Ph.D., an archaeologist with Colorado State University's Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands under contract with Fort McCoy.

"They examined ancient quarries where the first people to enter the state mined stone for their weapons and tools, documented the homes and farmsteads of pioneer Families, and rediscovered the remains of the very first infantry maneuvers from Camp Emory Upton in 1909-10," Woods said. Fort McCoy first was called the Sparta Maneuver Tract, which was divided into a maneuver camp named Camp Emory Upton and an artillery camp known as Camp Robinson.

Archaeologists Sarah Tillett and Mitch Johnson work on South Post on July 31, 2014, at Fort McCoy. The work was part of phase II archaeology being completed at the installation.
Archaeologists Sarah Tillett and Mitch Johnson work on South Post on
July 31, 2014, at Fort McCoy. The work was part of phase II archaeology
being completed at the installation.
Photo by Scott T. Sturkol

Mark McCarty, chief of the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch, said the archaeologists' work benefits both the installation and researchers.

"Fort McCoy's investment in professional archaeological work has been a huge win-win, simultaneously benefiting the installation, military training, taxpayers, and the scientific community," he said. "Knowing the locations of sensitive archaeological sites prior to project planning saves the installation vast amounts of time and money."

Construction and other projects can be approved much more quickly because the archaeological surveys already have been completed, McCarty said. Known archaeological deposits are protected from disturbance, and the likelihood of costly project delays or relocations is greatly reduced.

"We surveyed every safe-to-dig-and-walk inch of Fort McCoy," Woods said. "Fort McCoy has been very proactive in making sure cultural resources are preserved and understood. That's why there was more than three decades of phase I and phase II field work."

Woods said the archaeology effort at Fort McCoy is much different than other archaeology projects in Wisconsin that might take place in conjunction with a transportation project, such as the building of a new highway.

"At Fort McCoy, we know exactly where we are going to be doing projects, and the (archaeology) work has helped produce a very powerful project planning tool," Woods said.

"For instance, if someone wants to put in a tank trail somewhere on post, it is a long project that covers a lot of ground and has the potential to interact with some archaeology. Normally, that would be a huge amount of surveying that would need to be done. Now with the planning tool, we can better help planners decide where they should and shouldn't go with something like a tank trail. So in addition to all of this archaeology work being very cost effective for the military and the taxpayer, it has also produced a wonderful archaeology collection."

The 30 years of work also has generated a large amount of valuable scientific information as well as hundreds of thousands of archaeological artifacts, which are cared for by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Woods said. The artifacts are available to qualified researchers for study.

"There's probably 100 master's degree theses waiting to be written if students would get out there," he said.

Some of the artifacts from the many digs also are displayed at the Fort McCoy History Center, building 902. These include a selection of artifacts from Camp Emory Upton and old horseshoes that were found on South Post.

"Fort McCoy cultural-resources staff will continue to monitor and protect the condition of the installation's known archaeological sites, working to ensure there is never a conflict between the military training mission and archaeological preservation," McCarty said.

Recently, in June and July, Woods' archaeological team embarked on the first phase III dig on the installation's South Post. The dig was more intensive and produced more artifacts dating back thousands of years.

"This work was much different than the phase I and phase II work," Woods said. "With the phase III dig, artifacts were getting place-plotted with a laser and marked on how and where the artifact was found. It's a highly detailed bit of work. The phase III dig also helps us understand bigger questions we've had from earlier surveys."

McCarty reminded everyone that any artifacts spotted while on Fort McCoy or other federal properties should be left alone. It is illegal to dig for or remove artifacts from federally owned land without permission.

For more information about archaeology and cultural resources at Fort McCoy, call the Directorate of Public Works Natural Resources Branch at 608-388-4793.

   (Article prepared by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch and Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office.)