- Associated Press - Sunday, November 1, 2015

PIEDMONT, S.D. (AP) - Archaeologists are racing to recover artifacts from a campground in Piedmont before a construction project to build a service road over the land begins.

The archaeologists, who are from the South Dakota State Historical Society and Archaeological Research Center, began digging in late August and are expected to wrap up their excavation in the next couple of weeks. The site is located next to a natural spring near the Tilford Gulch Campground.

The ground was first surveyed in 2006 when evidence was found of an archaeological site. Additional testing revealed there were a large number of artifacts in the area.

Among the items found is a late prehistoric arrow point that dates back to a few hundred years, as well as a fragment of a dart point that resembles other points found in the Black Hills and is around 2,000 years old.

David Williams, a senior archaeologist for the dig, and his team have also found a lot of debris from stones used for cooking, flakes and shatter from flint knapping.

“Sometimes the material just shatters,” Williams told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1GKhFnY ). “We can tell those pieces have been human made as opposed to natural courses.”

The researchers have even found a few tools like scrapers used for cleaning hide, and fire-cracked rock, which could have been used for heating features or cooking in a hut. It also can be naturally formed from a forest fire, Williams added.

At the time almost 10 years ago, the Archaeological Research Center recommended to the Department of Transportation and the South Dakota State Historical Society that the site be evaluated.

All Department of Transportation projects must first go through the historical society for approval before construction begins, said department project engineer Harry Johnston. In cases where something of historical significance is found, the projects are delayed or changed.

Construction along Interstate 90 began in April and is scheduled to be completed in July 2016. The project includes work along Interstate 90 near the Tilford exit and moving the service road farther away from the interstate.

The service road will be moved for safety reasons. Within the next five to seven years, exits 44 and 46 will also be rebuilt, Johnston said.

Williams and his team will continue to survey the area in search of other potential sites. What’s unique about the current site is that it’s next to a natural spring that doesn’t freeze in the winter and is always flowing, Williams said.

It was dammed up by a couple of man-made structures in the 1930s or 1940s and is now a pond. Williams said it would have been a nice spot for camping or settling down when migrations came through.

The archaeologists found no evidence of hunting or animal processing. The items they discovered indicated that the site was a temporary occupation, where settlers would make tools and hang out for a while near a water source.

“In this part of the Black Hills, there’s not a lot known archaeologically,” Williams said. “There are a handful of really nice sites, but overall the archaeology is a little lacking. Particularly around springs there’s not a lot known. This was a good test of trying to identify what types of archaeology we can find.”

Generally, sites are left alone unless new construction is planned that could threaten them.

“It’s always disappointing when sites are going to be removed,” Williams said. “We’re trying to get the best knowledge and save as much as we can, but with the knowledge we’re gaining from this it’s better than completely losing the site.”

The team is digging trenches to identify the soil development and history of the site, and is also digging one-meter-by-one-meter holes to perform shovel tests.

Once the excavation is completed in November, the archaeologists will begin researching their finds and putting together reports.

“We had certain expectations coming in, and the work during has cleared some things up and muddied the waters of others,” Williams said. “But that’s part of the fun of it - putting the puzzle together.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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