It's September, a time when things begin to slow down considerably here in South Dakota. There's a distinct change in the the air as the weather makes its slide to autumn; grasshoppers and crickets march across the grounds of the Village in invasion-like numbers. It's a time to think of what we've accomplished so far this year.
Our renovation of the exterior of the Boehnen Memorial Museum is complete. New siding, new vestibules and a complete new audio/visual wing have made a huge difference in the appearance of the Museum.
We connected with the City of Mitchell's water and sewer infrastructure after 33 years of using well water and a holding tank for waste water. The holding tank had to be emptied every two weeks during the peak summer months. We are so happy that we do not have to do that anymore!
Audrey's Garden, a teaching garden filled with the plants used by our Villagers 1,000 years ago for food, medicine and decorative purposes, was installed in July. It is stunning! With two benches for sitting in contemplation, interpretive signs and an accompanying booklet the garden is going to be very popular.
Our annual Summer Archeology Field School was nothing short of amazing this summer! Right from the get go, the students were uncovering incredible finds. Archaeobotanicals, including 1,000 year-old corn cobs, corn, sunflower and chokecherry seeds, made big news in the archaeological world. The world's media outlets learned of the find and we were news in more than 130 cities around the world! Then, during our biggest event of the year, Archeology Awareness Days, our team found the first ever unbroken ceramic vessel. Our site has been excavated since 1910 and every piece of pottery we've ever found has been in pieces. Until this summer! You cannot imagine the excitement that weekend! Once again, we became a news subject around the world.
As we slow the pace down on the track to the cold winter months, we realize we have much to be grateful for. We have new members who have signed up to help support what we do here at the Village and our community showed its support for us during our fundraising drive for Audrey's Garden (much to our everlasting delight!).
We will enter winter with the last project of the year: a complete renovation of the interior of the Boehnen Memorial Museum. New paint, new carpets, updating the public restrooms to A.D.A. standards, new gift shop and a new office will keep us busy during those cold winter months. The best part, when you enter the Museum next spring, instead of wondering what we are all about, you will look with wonder at the new exhibit we have planned and say, "wow!!!!". No, we're not going to tell you what we are doing with the exhibits - we want you to come and see for yourself! We can't wait to see the looks on your faces and hear the squeals of anticipation from the children!
Our doors will remain open until October 31st, so stop by and visit the only archaeological site in South Dakota that is open to the public!
January 13, 2015
Winter at the Village is normally a quiet, contemplative time for our Executive Director. It's the time she spends writing grants, asking for donations, updating the gift shop, and cleaning her desk. This winter is different. Much different.
After several years of dreaming and planning, we are finally remodeling the Boehnen Memorial Museum. The work began in November when construction crews demolished the east wing of the museum (our video room), took down the siding, and removed the east and south entry way floors. Once the east wing was demolished, the crew began construction of the new wing, to be much larger than the original. The floor and walls are now up, the electrician should be here soon to wire the room.
Did I mention that it is winter here? In South Dakota? That means frigid temperatures. Our hats go off to the construction workers who must work in less than ideal conditions every day. Do we really want to hear how our Executive Director is suffering in her cold (65°F) office when those poor workers are outside in 10°F? I didn't think so...
We are all very excited about the end result of this work, the main part of which should be completed by April, 2015. We will get a new, large media and exhibit room, new siding, new vestibules at the main entrances. The interior will be updated with new paint and flooring. The office space will be moved into the gift shop and the gift shop will be moved into the office space, making for a much bigger and more comfortable gift shop. Our bathrooms will be made ADA compliant. This is truly exciting!
None of this could be done without the generous donations from the family of Lloyd Boehnen, an early supporter of the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Lloyd donated much of the funding to build the museum in 1982. It's only fitting that his legacy lives on.
We would be in remiss if we did not mention the family of Audrey Kinsella, also. They have donated the funding for the new landscaping that will be installed once construction is complete. Audrey was our first Executive Director, a board member and an active volunteer and supporter.
To both families, our sincerest thanks. And to our Executive Director, hang in there - spring is not too far away!
Wow, wow, wow!!! Check out this great video of our Archeology Awareness Days!
Our Village sits on a bluff that once overlooked a creek (the creek was dammed in 1928, creating the present-day Lake Mitchell). There was a ditch and a pallisade on the south and west sides of the Village. Early archaeologists once described our Village as a "fortified village", which would imply that perhaps the neighbors weren't so friendly. If this were the case, wouldn't you think that the ditch and wall would have surrounded the Village? We have never found any evidence of hostility or warfare occuring in our Village. Our archaeologists and researchers considered this and presented another theory.
What was outside the Village that would have terrified our people so much that they expended much labor and natural resources to construct the ditch and pallisade? The pallisade was constructed of logs cut from the cottonwood trees that lined the banks of streams and potholes on the prairie surrounding the Village. The ditch was wide and deep. Constucting these defenses required a great deal of manpower.
Some scientists estimate that there were perhaps as many as 100 million bison roaming North American 1,000 years ago. A large majority of these huge creatures were to be found on the prairies in the northern plains. A herd of stampeding bison would have been a serious threat to our Villagers. Bison would not be a threat if they were coming from the north or east sides of the Village, these areas were the bluffs and the bison would have taken the path of least resistance and would have run around the bluffs. But what about the south and west sides that faced the prairie. Building the pallisade would have offered an obstacle that may have deterred the bison and forced them to run around, thereby protecting the Village from complete mayhem and destruction.
What about that ditch? There was a force of nature that would have been absolutely terrifying to our Villagers. Fire was a serious and real threat, especially in the late summer and early autumn, when the grasses dried. Lighting could very easily ignite the dry grass and thatch and the ensuing fire would spread very rapidly. Acres of land would be consumed in just mere minutes. Fire would not have come from the east or north sides of the Village as those were the floodplains on which our Villagers grew their crops. The south and west sides, however, were open to the surrounding prairie and fire may have been a constant threat. Digging the ditch would have provided an excellent fire break, just as ditches do today for the modern forest fire fighters.
Fire, though a danger, was very beneficial to our Villagers. After fire spread across the prairie, new grasses and other plants would quickly emerge. The ash would have offered nutrients to the plants that survived the fires; indeed, some plants require fire to successfully reproduce. Animals would then come to graze on the tender, young shoots of the new plants. The Villagers most certainly would have taken advantage of the animals, such as deer, elk and bison.
The remains of an early ditch can be seen today at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. It lies along the walkway to the Archeodome. AS the Village grew over time, the ditch was moved and the wall was built. The diorama in the museum shows how the Village may have looked 1,000 years ago.