Maintenance window scheduled to begin at February 14th 2200 est. until 0400 est. February 15th


Forgot Password?

    Defense Visual Information Distribution Service Logo

    Don't pick it up: Leave artifacts where they're found on military installations

    Fort McCoy ArtiFACT: Pharmaceutical bottles

    Courtesy Photo | These bottles were found during past archaeological digs at Fort McCoy. Photo by...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office           

    Most visitors to Fort McCoy understand one of the most important rules to follow when spending time at the installation: If you didn’t drop it, don’t pick it up.

    This simple rule is intended primarily to help visitors avoid accidental injuries that could be caused by picking up potentially dangerous objects, especially unexploded ordinance. What many visitors may not realize is that this rule is important for the management of natural and cultural resources, as well.

    In 2005, an investigator performing archaeological surveys in one of the training areas between cantonment and the McCoy/Sparta Airfield found 12 artifacts in a single location that didn’t make much sense grouped together. Included among the artifacts were hide-working tools that could have come from a 10,000 year-old toolkit and pieces of prehistoric pottery. Pottery was not introduced into the archaeological record of North America until approximately 2,500 years ago, roughly 7,500 years after the time the hide-working tools might have been fashioned.

    Furthermore, one of the pieces of pottery (or sherds, as archaeologists call them) didn’t match most of the types of prehistoric pottery commonly found at Fort McCoy. It is quite rare for previously undiscovered pottery styles to appear, but it does occasionally happen that some pottery types that are common in other parts of the country appear as isolated examples in unusual areas. By the time ceramic vessel production was common across the country, exchange networks were being developed that facilitated the movement of stone tool materials and other goods from one coast to the other.

    One of the 12 artifacts recovered was made from a type of stone called Knife River flint, which can be sourced to North Dakota. Dozens of archaeological sites have produced artifacts made from Knife River flint, and modern flintknappers (stone tool makers) will tell you that it is one of the most desirable raw materials because of how predictably it can be modified into a desired form, such as a knife, spearpoint, or arrowhead. Other nonlocal or exotic types of stone represented in the 12 artifacts included dendritic jasper (likely from thewestern United States), moss agate (could have come from eastern Iowa or the western United States), and quartz (more common in northern and eastern Wisconsin).

    The initial investigators could not explain why these artifacts came to be grouped together. One possibility they suggested was that the grouping was a discard pile from a collector. It is possible that the materials were collected from various locations outside of Fort McCoy by some person who later decided to abandon them, but investigators did not think it very likely.

    The original investigators were also confused by the number of military-era metal fragments that were recovered from the area during follow-up investigations. The 12 prehistoric artifacts were minimal in comparison to the 175 modern objects including metal fragments, screws, cotter pins, fuse caps, can keys, D-rings, and unidentified burnt material.

    It is possible that a soldier with a keen eye for historic materials gathered these 12 artifacts while training at Fort McCoy, and a commanding officer noticed him showing them off to his comrades around a campfire and told him to drop them immediately. This very easily could have created an isolated grouping of materials that would not have otherwise occupied the same space.

    It is also possible that these materials were collected by a hunter or other type of visitor to Fort McCoy, who possibly dropped them when a member of physical security approached to inquire about their business at Fort McCoy.

    Regardless of which scenario is most accurate, the important thing to understand is that simply picking up a pretty rock can have consequences that span decades. If the artifacts had been closer in age and less unlikely bedfellows, the site area might have been recommended to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and subsequently restricted from certain types of training.

    Many, if not all, archaeologists have at least a little bit of treasure hunter ingrained in their DNA, but their training helps them record the treasures they find in very specific ways that can help other researchers and contribute to the archaeological record of the area they are investigating, the state in which that area is located, the region containing that state and neighboring ones, and the country as a whole. Everyone who visits and spends time in the field at Fort McCoy has a chance to avoid adding confusing entries to the archaeological record of the installation, Wisconsin, the Upper Midwest, and the United States by following that simple rule that is worth repeating: If you didn’t drop it, don’t pick it up.

    All archaeological work conducted at Fort McCoy was sponsored by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.

    Visitors and employees are reminded they should not collect artifacts on Fort McCoy or other government lands and leave the digging to the professionals.

    Any person who excavates, removes, damages, or otherwise alters or defaces any historic or prehistoric site, artifact, or object of antiquity on Fort McCoy is in violation of federal law.

    The discovery of any archaeological artifact should be reported to the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch at 608-388-8214.

    (Article prepared by the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.)



    Date Taken: 07.21.2020
    Date Posted: 07.21.2020 15:02
    Story ID: 374296
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US

    Web Views: 84
    Downloads: 0