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    Fort McCoy Archaeology: Artifacts from post’s piece of Driftless Area find home at Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

    Fort McCoy Archaeology: Artifacts from post’s piece of Driftless Area find home at Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

    Photo By Claudia Neve | Artifacts found through archaeological exploration at Fort McCoy, Wis., are shown Jan....... read more read more

    Fort McCoy’s artifact collection contains more than 600,000 artifacts ranging in age from Native American artifacts that are more than 12,000 years old to World War II-era military artifacts from the 1940s, and nearly all are stored with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

    Those artifacts are the result of nearly 40 years of archaeological work and documentation at the installation, and their helping tell the story of Southwest Wisconsin’s recent and distant history in the Driftless Area of North America, said Fort McCoy Archaeologist Ryan Howell with the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.

    Howell is part of the team that leads the effort to oversee the large collection of artifacts, and said the center at the university is a perfect place to house the artifacts.

    “The Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center is the closest federally sanctioned curation facility to Fort McCoy and has a long history of working with the installation’s cultural resource management program,” Howell said. “Most of the Fort McCoy (archaeology) staff and others have worked or trained with the program over the years. Plus, most scientific interest in the Fort McCoy collections would most likely come from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse archaeology program or scholars visiting it to see other collections.”

    One of the first major stories about archaeology at Fort McCoy that mentions the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center is in the Dec. 2, 1988, edition of The Triad newspaper of Fort McCoy. In the story, entitled, “Archaeology: Studies dig up history of fort’s distant past,” is features an archaeologist with the center discussing completing work at the post.

    “Archaeologists believe the fort actually holds fairly dense traces of man’s past in spite of training and construction,” the article states. “In fact, since the post hasn’t been farmed as extensively as the surrounding areas, the experts feel it’s probably richer in artifacts.”

    James Gallagher, state archaeologist and professor of archaeology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse at that time, said in the story, “The potential is considerable. … I’m impressed by the sheer number of sites (at Fort McCoy).”

    The story states Gallagher did work at Fort McCoy “under the auspices of the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center,” and that he had studied several areas of the post.

    “While it’s more likely to find larger sites such as ancient villages along Wisconsin’s major rivers, Gallagher explained those sites are also harder to find, and more prone to be destroyed by
    floods, fill and silt.”

    The article, written by Bill Roche of the newspaper staff with the Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office, also showed how Gallagher explained what they were finding.

    “Gallagher explained that studies here have uncovered evidence of most of the major cultures found in this area over the past 10,000 years,” the article states. “Many of the earlier groups used stone tools, but they couldn’t use just any stone. Early tool makers needed fine-grained stone
    which would break in a predictable way when shaped.”

    In the Jan. 10, 1997, edition of The Triad newspaper at Fort McCoy, a news note item also addressed how the Fort McCoy area is a unique area that lends itself to being an archaeological treasure for the area.

    “A soil study (from September 1996) performed by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates underlying soil at Fort McCoy hasn’t changed much in 9,000 years,” the article item states. “Stone artifacts dating back that far are found in proximity to more recent artifacts, such as ordnance. This indicates that the post can support its training mission without disturbing the soil environment. Data also will be used to help with land-use and environmental management.”

    And a Jan. 23, 1998, article about cultural resources in The Triad newspaper also further highlighted the efforts of Fort McCoy working with aspects of the archaeology center’s programs.

    “In the summer of 1997, … the post hosted the Archaeological Field School from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse,” the article stated.

    Tyler Olsen, an archaeologist with the Fort McCoy archaeology program with Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML), said in a 2014 dig at Fort McCoy they were finding many artifacts which ended up at the archaeology center.

    “We have to do more analysis, but this year (2014) we’ve been finding artifacts that could be anywhere from 12,000 to 500 years old,” Olson said in an article in the Sept. 26, 2014, edition of The Real McCoy newspaper. “With every dig comes some level of excitement as we look
    back at how people lived here long before Fort McCoy was here.”

    No matter what year artifacts were found, or what dig they were from, Archaeologist Miranda Alexander, also with the CEMML supporting the Fort McCoy archaeology team, said it’s good that Fort McCoy has such a productive relationship with the archaeology center, and it’s proven beneficial overall for the archaeology community.
    “I think having the collection close to us is very important,” said Alexander, who completes most of the curation of artifacts for Fort McCoy at the center. “Especially if someone wanted to do research on them. And as for preserving history, it’s important because we can learn all the different time periods, cultural time periods, and more.”

    The archaeology efforts at Fort McCoy are governed by federal regulations and the National
    Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), according to Howell. Federal law requires the Army to protect historic properties under its control and to consider the effects of Army actions on those properties. The law further defines the need to find historic properties, including archaeological sites, and determine their importance.

    According to its mission description at, the mission of the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center “is to provide education about the science of archaeology and the ancient cultures of the upper Mississippi River Valley to the general public, educators, undergraduate students, and precollegiate students; to conduct research and exploration of archaeological sites and artifacts; to preserve archaeological artifacts of ancient cultures which flourished within the upper Mississippi Valley; and to provide a regional center to promote an understanding of the prior inhabitants of this region.”

    Learn more about the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center by visiting

    Learn more about Fort McCoy online 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. Fort McCoy is also part of Army’s Installation Management Command where “We Are The Army’s Home.”



    Date Taken: 02.05.2024
    Date Posted: 02.05.2024 17:54
    Story ID: 463248
    Location: FORT MCCOY, WI, US

    Web Views: 992
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