Political Matters: Burial mounds bulldozed
Friday, June 05 2015
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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mordecaispecktor-web.jpgBurial mounds bulldozed

Whiteford’s Indian Burial Pit was a popular tourist trap in central Kansas, from 1936-1989. On open display were 147 skeletons of Indians.

The privately owned roadside attraction was closed after American Indians protested the disrespect being shown to their ancestors. The State of Kansas negotiated an agreement with the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, in 1990, and the 700-year-old skeletons were given a dignified burial.

The state of Minnesota recognized many years ago that ancient Indian burials deserve the same protection accorded to newer cemeteries. Section 307.08 of Minnesota’s Private Cemeteries Act “affords all human burial grounds and remains older than 50 years and located outside of platted or identified cemeteries protection from unauthorized disturbance,” according the Web site of the state archaeologist. The law applies to “prehistoric Indian burial mounds.”

Unfortunately, a Hennepin County road construction project near Lake Minnetonka succeeded in bulldozing a number of Indian burial mounds. The incident, which occurred in October 2014, was reported in the local press in May.

After the discovery of human remains, Hennepin County officials stopped work on what was to be roundabout at County Road 101 (known to locals as Bushaway Road) and Breezy Point Road, south of Gray’s Bay, in Minnetonka.

The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) has assembled a team to gather bone fragments for reburial.

“I’m working with the four Dakota tribes within Minnesota, in collaboration with the Hamline University alumni students. They all have an archeology background, including the tribal members working on site with me,” Jim Jones, MIAC cultural resources director, said in a story by Meghan Davy in the Lakeshore Weekly News.

The story noted that Jones couldn’t definitively pinpoint the age of the remains, as radiocarbon dating of human remains is deemed disrespectful.

I talked in late May with Scott Anfinson, the state archaeologist, who emphatically denied that he made any mistake, regarding the bulldozing of Indian burial mounds for the $41 million road project.

A 2013 study conducted by experts at the office of the Iowa state archaeologist, at the University of Iowa, mapped “precontact burial mounds” in 16 Minnesota counties using LiDAR (light detection and ranging). That study analyzed data compiled by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, as well as a 19th century survey done by archaeologists T. H. Lewis and J. V. Brower.

The 1883 survey “recorded hundreds of mound sites, with Lewis in particular demonstrating a technical competence that is commendable even by modern standards,” the Iowa group reported.

The Minnetonka road project area did not contain any visible mounds, according to Anfinson. “None of the mounds were visible anymore, by LiDAR or just by looking at it with your eyes.”

The 2013 Iowa study “still wasn’t good enough,” Anfinson said; so he told Hennepin County to hire a firm from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse “to come in there and do some extensive trenching and digging holes to see if they could find any remnants of either burial pits or the mound fill from the original burial mounds.” This took place in 2009; and the UW-LaCrosse experts couldn’t find any mound fill or burial pits, Anfinson recounted.

Anfinson sent the report on to Jim Jones at the MIAC, and Jones said that he wanted to send in his own guy to survey the area. Grant Goltz, who has long experience in surveying Indian burial mounds, was tapped by Jones to probe the area. And Goltz had found “intact soil,” evidence of burial mounds in the “eastern part” of the road project.

However, Anfinson found that Goltz had misread old survey notes, and his measurements “were 50 feet off east-west.” He also was slightly off on his north-south measurements.

Anfinson conferred with Jones again, and it was decided that another survey be commissioned. Mike Kolb, an archaeologist and geologist from Wisconsin, came in and did soil coring in the area tested by both the UW-LaCrosse group and by Goltz. Kolb couldn’t find any mound fill, burial pits or human remains.

Anfinson wrote to Hennepin County, in December 2010, and based on the two surveys done, told them that they could go ahead with road project. Anfinson said that he still “apprehensive,” and told the county to hire an archaeologist to walk behind the bulldozer doing the grading.

In early October last year, bone fragments were discovered. Anfinson came out the construction site, and metwith Jim Jones. “They were quarter-size pieces of bone,” said Anfinson, who carefully peeled back some soil. “I did finally find a human tooth.”

Anfinson told Jones that the project should be shut down.

“Lake Minnetonka was a cultural and spiritual place. Each burial site is still held in high regard. It’s still a sacred place to people,” Jim Jones told the Star Tribune.

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