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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Faculty, Students Research
Area Archeological Site
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: Dec. 29, 1997

EAU CLAIRE -- It'll be easier for scientists to identify certain archeological sites in Wisconsin thanks to a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire geographer and his student research collaborators.
Dr. Garry Running and several students are studying a pre-Columbian ridged field archeological site on the north side of Dells Pond in Eau Claire. Researchers are analyzing the geomorphologic data collected from the site to determine the benefits of ridged field agriculture, and establish criteria for identifying similar sites.
"A lack of descriptive information about ridged fields in Wisconsin makes preserving them all but impossible," Running said, noting that he hopes his research will help develop a plan to preserve sites for future generations.
Chippewa Valley lumber baron William Bartlett first reported the site to Charles E. Brown, the first Wisconsin state archaeologist, around the turn of the century, Running said. A ridge and furrow agricultural system like that at the Eau Claire site was used by Oneota people, a prehistoric Native American group known to have lived in the upper Midwest.
"The site has a long pedigree but no one has done much about studying it," Running said of the site, located on land owned by Northern States Power that has been protected from development. "We know it's not a pine plantation and we know the ridges aren't road ruts. We know it's a genuine ridged field and our question is what did the people who built it get out of the ridge and furrow system."
Senior elementary education major Bryce Kelley initiated the project when he asked Running about Native American archeological sites in the area.
"It's a chance to study the life of the common person in our own backyard," Kelley said.
Initially, the project was to be a research paper for a geography class, Kelley said. "I had never heard of the Oneota culture but it sparked an interest in me," he said. "It's weird being an education major and doing all this geography-archeological stuff but it's all information I'll use in a classroom."
Ridged fields in Wisconsin and their use by Native Americans are well documented in accounts of early explorers and fur traders, and its importance in the economic strategies of native groups is well known. The Oneota were hunters and gatherers but also practiced sedentary agriculture. Despite its economic importance, their agricultural practices are not well understood and have received little scientific attention. It's known that they involve the preparation of ridged fields, a sophisticated but poorly understood cultivation technique.
"No ridged fields in Eau Claire County have been studied," Running said. "Consequently, what ridged fields look like and how they vary from region to region, why they were prepared and how they improve site conditions for agriculture production, and who built them remain the subject of debate. The fact that they are the same age as Oneota village sites is at best circumstantial evidence that Oneota people built them."
While the field is an archeological site, it doesn't contain the artifacts most archeologists are prepared to deal with, Running said. The questions that can be addressed at the site are more earth science related so physical geographers are of great use, he said.
Students worked with Running to map the area in centimeter detail. Among the things researchers determined was that the ridges are oriented north and south. "It gave them a longer growing season with the ridges," he said. "And it was on the north side of the river so they'd get the reflection from the water. They got protection from the frost."
In addition to learning about the agricultural benefits of the system, the information can help researchers better understand the social organization of families and communities during that period, Running said.
While researchers suspect the area is an Oneota site, they can't be sure, Kelley said. The information gathered will be compared to other sites known to be Oneota so similarities and differences can be explored, he said.
Running and his students are almost done with the field work but have lab work to complete.


UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: Dec. 29, 1997