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from the trenches
Midwest Sites Deluged Volume 61 Number 5, September/October 2008
by K. Kris Hirst

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(Courtesy Marilyn Thomas)

In June, the upper Mississippi River states saw record flooding that not only left thousands homeless, but also threatened numerous archaeological sites.

"When a river overtops or breaks a levee, the velocity of the floodwaters scoops out huge amounts of earth," says Judith Deel of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who notes this can have a severe impact on prehistoric Native American and early historic settlements that tend to cluster near the large rivers of the upper Midwest.

In Iowa, Doug Jones of the State Historical Society reports that some archaeological sites in the floodplains of most of the Mississippi River tributaries were affected. Motor Mill and Bonaparte Pottery, two important 19th-century industrial sites, both suffered from flooding.

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Wisconsin's flood damage has been largely limited to the state's south-western corner. State archaeologist John Broihahn is concerned about sites in the Mississippi floodplain, such as Oneota villages (A.D. 1100-1600) in the LaCrosse area. He is also fearful that landslides of upland bluffs may have damaged Woodland period (1000 B.C.-A.D. 1000) burial mounds.

This year Missouri has seen twice as much rainfall as is normal and has faced flooding on most of the state's major rivers intermittently since March. Based on experience from 1993 floods, Department of Natural Resources archaeologist Judith Deel's immediate concern is for the safety of historic cemeteries located near major waterways.

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