This is why Afton is scanning for ancient Indian burial mounds

By Mary Devine, Pioneer Press, March 28th, 2016

Geoffrey Jones looks at paperwork of an 1883 survey of the Rattlesnake Effigy site as he conducts ground -penetrating radar and electrical resistance testing at the site in Afton, Minn. on Monday, March 28, 2015. Tribal representatives have asked Afton city officials to conduct more tests to ensure that the city's sewer construction activities will not impact possible burial sites that may be located at the area of the mound. Jones is an archaelogical geophysicist and principal at Archaeo-Physics, LLC in Minneapolis.   (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

Geoffrey Jones looks at paperwork of an 1883 survey of the Rattlesnake Effigy site as he conducts ground -penetrating radar and electrical resistance testing at the site in Afton, Minn. on Monday, March 28, 2015. Tribal representatives have asked Afton city officials to conduct more tests to ensure that the city’s sewer construction activities will not impact possible burial sites that may be located at the area of the mound. Jones is an archaelogical geophysicist and principal at Archaeo-Physics, LLC in Minneapolis. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

After cordoning off a section of Steamboat Park in Afton on Monday, archeologists Geoff Jones and David Thiel hefted a black-metal square frame with metal electrodes into the grass and waited for the machine to beep.

After each beep, the men would move the electrical resistance meter about 1 1/2 feet and wait again. By the end of the day, they had used the machine, which measures resistance in ohms, to test the entire park south of Selma’s Ice Cream Parlour in the city’s Old Village area.

The city of Afton has hired Archaeo-Physics, LLC, to determine whether a proposed $4 million wastewater treatment project would threaten ancient American Indian burial sites. The meter is one of several methods being used to help map the area.

The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, a state-level agency, has said the sewer project’s storm-water retention pond could pose a risk to the nearby burial mound called Rattlesnake Effigy. Under state law, the council has the authority to protect Indian burial sites.

Jones, a principal at Minneapolis-based Archaeo-Physics, said electrical resistance in the soil varies and is affected by modern disturbances and the presence of archaeological features. Jones will use each reading, roughly six samples per square meter, to produce a map.

“The more samples you collect, the better the picture is going to be,” said Jones, who specializes in geophysical surveying and high-resolution subsurface mapping. “Based on the nature of the site, we’re collecting data at very high-sample densities. We take all these readings, and we put them together like pixels in an image, and that’s our map of the site.”

Jones also plans this week to conduct ground-penetrating radar — a machine that “looks like a lawnmower with a wheel trailing behind it” — to clarify the location of the mound.

Another company will conduct shovel testing in the area.

REVIEW REQUIRED

Planned for years, the wastewater collection and treatment system is designed to protect the St. Croix River and groundwater, particularly during flooding.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued the final permit for the project in December. But because federal funding is involved, the MPCA must complete a review required by the National Historic Preservation Act.

As part of that review process, MPCA and city officials met with Indian representatives and toured the site last month. Members of the tribal community asked the city to do additional work.

Afton is paying $4,700 to have the tests done, said City Administrator Ron Moorse. He said the work would focus on the project’s stormwater pond, the stormwater lift station and the sanitary sewer lift station.

“The information we have is that that area has been substantially disturbed, and we don’t expect that we will find anything,” Moorse said.

The city, working with State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson, hired an archaeologist last year to evaluate the Rattlesnake Effigy, including a review of aerial laser scanning of the site conducted in 1976. That analysis did not detect any outline of the mound, Moorse said.

In addition, he said, no human bones have been found there.

Commercial and residential development has disturbed major portions of the area. A railroad track once ran parallel to the site, and septic systems were built within it.

When the archaeologist’s report showed part of the original L-shaped design of the storm-water pond was in an undisturbed area of the mound, Moorse said, the city redesigned the pond and relocated it to an area already heavily disturbed by culvert construction.

The project will treat sewage from 77 homes and 25 businesses in the Old Village, now served by private septic systems. Moorse said the current setup can cause problems when the St. Croix River floods. Forty-five percent of the systems don’t meet state or local standards.

The sewer part of the project will be funded with a $1.7 million MPCA grant and about $700,000 from the state Department of Natural Resources. An additional $2 million will be assessed to about 100 homes and businesses in the Old Village.

PAST SURVEYS REVIEWED

To prepare for his work in Afton, Jones studied the work of archaeologist T.H. Lewis, who conducted surveys and mapped Indian burial grounds in Minnesota in the 1880s. Lewis surveyed the Rattlesnake Effigy in Afton on June 25, 1883, Jones said.

Lewis “is a personal hero of mine,” Jones said. “His surveys were usually very accurate. I tried to map out, from his survey notes, where these mounds originally were exactly. It was pretty well-known, but I got it nailed down pretty accurately. (Lewis) mapped thousands and thousands of mounds — over 7,000 in Minnesota alone. He mapped 17,000 mounds at over 2,000 separate sites around the Midwest.”

Jones said Monday that the amount of disturbance at the site “has been considerable” and that he could not say whether there were intact archaeological features below ground.

“I may do more to simply document disturbance than find the original features,” he said. “The biggest concern here is not just the cultural history aspect of what these mounds might mean, but there is always a possibility that there are burials here, and protecting those is really a high priority.”

Jim Jones Jr.,the council’s cultural resource director, said, “The potential for having human remains or other burials outside of the mound is very high, and that’s been proven on other sites. So the concern was whether or not the storm-water collection pond was going to have a negative impact on other unplatted or unmapped burials.”

He was glad that the work was being done this week and progressing.

“Once that work is complete … Geoff can come back and tell us what areas of the site are still intact and what areas have been impacted, so that we know which areas we have to focus on to make sure those areas are protected,” Jim Jones Jr. said.

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COMMENTS

This article promotes two Afton falsehoods:

1. Afton City Administrator Ron Moorse says “no human bones have been found”? The Afton Historical Museum has an article “Indian Grave”, documenting how Afton resident whose property included the mound, D. J. Peabody, cared for the Rattlesnake effigy (Stillwater Gazette, 1956). In the article it states: “At least one tomahawk and a number of arrowheads have been found in the mound.” Peabody says. “A number of years ago, several workmen uncovered two skulls from the body of the fish.” Of course, Ron Moorse knows this that human remains have already been found. This should be “game over” at this point: http://protectvalleycreek.info/issues-of-concern/native-rights/337-2/

2. The article says: “The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, a state-level agency, has said the sewer project’s storm-water retention pond could pose a risk to the nearby burial mound called Rattlesnake Effigy. Under state law, the council has the authority to protect Indian burial sites.” Could pose? Let the diagram of plans for the pipes through the Rattlesnake Effigy speak for itself. At least 4 or 5 pipes unambiguously pass through the outline of the surveyed mound:
http://protectvalleycreek.info/issues-of-concern/native-rights/map-proposed-drilling-through-rattlesnake-effigy-wsb-associates-11-august-2015/

The only reason Afton is doing any due diligence whatsoever is because local residents and tribes have pressed the issue. Despite this, Ron Moorse and the City of Afton continue to talk about the project as if human remains had not already been found in the mound, and as if the City isn’t planning to drill through the boundaries of the mound. The City’s own historical records and plans contradict Moorse’s claims at every level.

When Afton’s main street was developed several decades ago, a ton of dirt was moved into the area of the Rattlesnake Effigy to level the land grade. While the area may indeed be “disturbed”, and only parts of the Effigy visible, there is a high potential for the Effigy to be intact and have merely been buried under surface soil. It is disingenuous to suggest that it does not exist any more.