Fort McCoy News September 27, 2013

Last excavation for archaeological survey completed

A ceremonial excavation on the western side of Fort McCoy signified that all of the training lands available for archaeological survey now have been examined for sites.

Fort McCoy Environmental Division Chief Alan Balliett said the Sept. 4 excavation is expected to be the final shovel test unit on the installation.

Photo for excavation survey
Alan Balliett, Environmental Division chief, digs the last shovel test unit for the archaeological survey program. Photo by Rob Schuette

While there always is a chance for an archaeological site to be discovered inadvertently during future projects, it is expected that most of the archaeological sites on the installation have been identified, Balliett said.

For the past 27 years, Fort McCoy has worked to survey available training lands for archaeological sites to comply with requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

This survey work generally consisted of mapping a series of 15-meter (a little more than 49 feet) long transects, along which field archaeologists either would conduct a pedestrian survey or dig a series of holes, referred to as shovel test units or shovel tests.

Shovel tests are round holes, roughly 40 centimeters (about 16 inches) in diameter, excavated to a depth of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches) or, in the case of high-priority areas, 80 centimeters (about 31.5 inches).

The dirt from these holes is sifted through hand screens. Any artifacts found are recorded. Significant finds, such as tools or pottery, are collected and placed into curation at the Mississippi Valley Archaeological Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

"The program's first survey excavations date back to the positioning of the Multipurpose Training Range," Balliett said. "The excavations have helped prepare the way for the many projects that have been completed since that time to support training needs at the installation."

More than 550 archaeological sites have been identified as a result of the archaeological survey. These sites make up a variety of campsites, workshops, quarries, and farmsteads that show how the land has been occupied and used throughout the past 12,000 years.

The completion of the archaeological survey benefits Fort McCoy by reducing the amount of time and expense needed to review a project area for compliance with the NHPA. It can provide planners with the resources needed to avoid additional archaeological work. Likewise, the results of the full survey can provide a baseline of archaeological information useful to archaeologists working in western Wisconsin.

Archaeological work still is being conducted at Fort McCoy. Contract archaeologists from Colorado State University now are working to evaluate the sites found during the survey for historical significance.

(Submitted by the Fort McCoy Natural Resources Branch and the contracted Archaeological Program of Colorado State University.)