FARGO -- Two campsites used by prehistoric Indians for butchering animals lie in the path of the diversion channel designed to provide flood protection for Fargo-Moorhead.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is well aware of the sites and is hiring a firm to conduct extensive archeological studies of the locations in consultation with area American Indian tribes.
One of the sites, with a surface area of about 15 acres, is along the Sheyenne River near Argusville in northern Cass County. The other, with a surface area of about 20 acres, is along the Maple River in southern Cass County.
John Strand, a Fargo city commissioner, briefed the city’s Native American Commission on the two sites. Corps representatives have been invited to present their findings to the Native American Commission in October.
The two sites don’t appear to pose a threat to the $2.2 billion diversion project, Strand said.
“I think the intent is to open the communication clearly, up front,” he added. Although the tribes are concerned, “I didn’t get the impression it was anything like Standing Rock,” a reference to massive protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline in central North Dakota.
Federal law requires the corps to identify cultural sites and, when possible, to build around them. When that isn’t possible, the corps is required to mitigate the loss through extensive study and documentation, including photographs.
“In the case of these two sites, they are in the path of destruction,” said Susan Malin-Boyce, an archeologist for the corps in St. Paul.
About 330 sites have been identified by the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office within the diversion project area. The route of the 36-mile diversion channel has been surveyed, but not all of the upstream staging area has been reviewed, she said.
Walking surveys along the diversion route include those by representatives of area tribes, Malin-Boyce said.
“They walked the relevant sections of the diversion channel looking for cultural properties,” she said.
Consultations with both Ojibwe and Dakota-Lakota tribes from the region started in 2009, and the walking investigations were performed in 2011 by American Indians, who searched for potential burials and other sacred sites.
Archeologists have surveyed more than 26,000 acres of project land, looking for artifacts and remnants of historical buildings visible on the surface. A second phase of surveys in 2013, focusing on areas where artifacts were found, identified the two campsites, apparently used by hunting parties.
The site along the Sheyenne River, near Argusville, which has been known since 1939, has yielded thousands of bone fragments as well as arrowheads and other points made from Knife River flint, quarried from western North Dakota and traded over a vast area.
Also, three feet below the surface, it contains an area with evidence that a large mammal carcass was burned, she said.
The actual archeological sites are probably much smaller than 15 or 20 acres. Bone fragments and stone artifacts have been spread out over time by frost upheavals, animals burrowing and farming, Malin-Boyce said.
Both sites are about 2,000 years old, placing them within the Middle Woodland era, a period when seminomadic ancient Indians occupied much of the eastern United States, including the Red River Valley. The Woodland Indians can’t be traced to individual contemporary tribes, but likely have descendants among many tribes today, Malin-Boyce said.
The two campsite locations, both along rivers, apparently offered advantages in hunting, primarily buffalo and deer, she said. It’s likely the sites were occupied seasonally for weeks or perhaps even months at a time.
Teams of specialists will begin investigating and documenting the sites soon, with field work to be completed by Veterans Day, Malin-Boyce said. The teams will include archeologists as well as paleo ethnobotanists, ceramicists and professional photographers, she said.
Following the field work, laboratory analysis likely will take a year.
On the surface, the two campsites, long obscured by time and the elements, are unremarkable.
“They just look like fields,” Malin-Boyce said. “They don’t look like anything.”