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    Archaeologist discusses painstaking work of archaeology, finding artifacts

    Archaeologist discusses painstaking work of archaeology, finding artifacts

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | Archaeologist Tyler Olsen with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental...... read more read more

    Archaeologist Tyler Olsen with the Colorado State University’s (CSU) Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands has worked on dozens of archaeological digs at Fort McCoy over the years, and he said he’s found some amazing artifacts. But, he said, that’s after lots of hard, painstaking work and research, and more.

    “Doing this is never easy,” said Olsen as he worked in the shade July 14 while digging out dirt in a grid for placement in a shaker. For several weeks in July, the archaeological team members with the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch (NRB) and CSU held a special archaeological survey and dig on Fort McCoy’s South Post Housing Area looking at areas around old concrete tent pads that were once part of Camp Robinson. Olsen was using an archaeology shaker screen to search for artifacts.

    A shaker screen action, by definition, is a method that consists of analyzing soil removed during excavation and putting it through screen meshes of different sizes. This technique allows archaeologists to recover artifacts, which could be overlooked during the removal of the sediments due to their negligible size.

    “We’re using quarter-inch mesh, which is pretty standard for finding historic materials,” Olsen said while using his shaker screen. “You don’t typically find pieces of military regalia or buttons or shell casings or even actual loads still that are going to be small enough to fall through the holes. The other side of that is that you do have plenty of rocks. So, you have to sift through and take out roots or large rocks and see if there’s anything among all of these rocks that might be able to help tell part of the story of the area that we’re investigating.

    “And that’s the whole goal,” Olsen said. “The goal is to try to dig below the ground surface and see if we can find little bits and pieces that help tell story of what was happening in this area anywhere from 10 to maybe 1,000 years ago.”

    Steady archaeological work has been ongoing at Fort McCoy for at least the last four decades, and while his 2022 work on South Post didn’t yield any ancient artifacts, he said his work with the Fort McCoy archaeological team has found some interesting items — including a very old fire pit.

    “The only thing that we can guarantee at Fort McCoy that’s 10,000 years old is a fire pit that we found that we were able to do radiocarbon analysis on,” Olsen said. “That of course took some time. But we’ve also found plenty, and I mean plenty of actual what we call projectile points.

    “We’ve found all kinds of things below the ground surface,” Olsen said. “And I would venture to say that probably 90 to 95 percent of the artifacts that were recovered here at Fort McCoy that were found below the ground surface went through something exactly like this screen. Either a version like this with legs to brace while we shake or something that’s more portable.”

    As he continued sifting dirt and sod, Olsen said he was just doing what he’s always loved doing. He also said the physical part of finding or not finding artifacts is only a small part of the job. The documenting, researching, cataloguing, and other work related to artifacts can be just as time consuming.

    “I think most of us do this because we love it,” Olsen said. “It’s a labor of love for sure.”

    Olsen, along with many others on the Fort McCoy archaeology team continued work on the South Post dig throughout July. They’ll spend months going over the artifacts they found. Some artifacts, including ones Olsen found in his shaker screen, will go back more than a century to the installation’s beginnings.

    “Obviously at this location we are chasing just Fort McCoy history, and that only goes back just over 110 years,” Olsen said with another vigorous shuffle of the shaker screen. “But specifically, this area, we have a strong inclination that what we are going to find items that date to sometime between 1926 and 1940. So, if we can find little materials we are looking to see if they fit into that category. Even after we’re done where we must look up something online or in old journals like the Society for Historical Archaeology, we’ll have to probably look at a lot of online material guides that help us narrow down timelines.”

    Archaeologists at Fort McCoy, including Olsen, have examined ancient quarries where the first people to enter the state mined stone for their weapons and tools, documented the homes and farmsteads of pioneer families, and rediscovered the remains of the very first infantry maneuvers from Camp Emory Upton in 1909-10.

    Additionally, the decades of archaeology work have generated hundreds of thousands of artifacts — some of which are displayed at the Fort McCoy History Center, building 902, in the Commemorative Area. Others are cared for by the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

    Learn more about Fort McCoy online at, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”

    Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base.



    Date Taken: 08.26.2022
    Date Posted: 08.26.2022 15:11
    Story ID: 428149
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US 

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