When Whiterock Conservancy invited Joe Artz, an archaeologist with EarthView Environmental, to investigate a possible archaeological site he was a bit nervous about what he would, or more specifically wouldn’t, find. A small group of staff and volunteers had been assembled to do an excavation, and he didn’t want to disappoint them.

The site had been exposed by high river flows over the last few years that had caused the banks to slump along the Middle Raccoon River. Two stone tools and some bone fragments had been found and there was no guarantee there was anything else for the excavators to find. His fears were quickly alleviated when visible on the river bank, and buried about four feet under the surface, was a prehistoric cooking pit, or hearth. The charred cooking stones along with charcoal from the fire itself formed a clear line on the bank nearly 40 inches long.

The volunteers moved a lot of dirt cleaning off the hearth to further expose it. They also dug a test hole in the bank above the hearth and were rewarded by more charred stones when they reached the right depth. No other artifacts were found at the time, but Joe took what appeared to be a flat, mud-caked piece of standstone home for a closer look. It turned out to be a potsherd! It’s part of the rim of a vessel probably used as a cooking pot. The decorations and technique used in making the pot shows it is from the Middle or Late Woodland periods, roughly 2000-1000 years ago.

The hearth will be carbon dated to more precisely age the site and to learn more about the ancient cultures of the Middle Raccoon River Valley within the Whiterock Conservancy.

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