Posted by: Brian | June 26, 2011

A Musket Ball, Pottery Sherd, and Chipped Stone Tool – Pieces of Roosevelt Lake History

Kayla and Harrison shovel testing at Roosevelt Lake.

We wrapped up our Roosevelt Lake fieldwork on Friday. The two sites we found are very different from each other. One site is a single component lithic reduction site (a place where stone tools were made). The second is a multi-component camp site. This camp site was first occupied more than a thousand years ago – with people returning repeatedly even as recently as the 1800s. The lithic reduction site will be harder to date – but our best guess is that it is much older – perhaps occupied many thousands of years ago.

Jessica excavating Unit 1 at the lithic reduction site.

The lithic reduction site produced a very limited range of artifacts – mostly just flakes and other evidence of chipped stone tool production  We dug several shovel tests on this site – usually finding either nothing or just a flake or two. We placed a 1×1 m unit in the one area of the site that was relatively productive. I think the shovel test here had a whopping four flakes. The 1×1 proved to be well-located. We recovered some 50-75 flakes, a couple of core fragments, and a very crude biface.

Jessica and Kevin profiling Unit 1

What makes this lithic assemblage so interesting is that it appears to be all from a single flintknapping episode. All the artifacts are of Tongue River Silica and probably from just one original core. This assemblage offers the opportunity to study the behavior of an individual flintknapper. This kind of study is relatively rare amongst northern Minnesota sites – where most assemblages are often the result of many different occupations – and the chipped stone flakes produced by many different flintknappers.

Tongue River silica flakes from Unit 1, Level 2, NE quad

We don’t know how old this lithic reduction site is, but the lack of ceramics suggests it may be an Archaic tradition occupation. If it truly is ‘pre-ceramic’ and not ‘a-ceramic’ it could date anywhere between 3000 and 7000 years old.

Shovel Testing the Terrace Site

Our second site was located on a small, lake-side terrace. Our first shovel test on this terrace produced pottery from at least four different vessels, along with some flakes and FCR. Even more impressive than the number of vessels coming from this small test, is the diversity of pottery types. Most of the ceramic sherds came from vessels made in local styles, but some appear to be from vessel types most common in other areas of the state, including a “Oneota” like sherd that may have come from a southeastern Minnesota vessel. Although our ceramic identifications are tentative, this lake terrace site does support a hypothesis that Roosevelt Lake is part of a transportation corridor that provided a short cut between the Mississippi River and Leech Lake. The range of pottery types suggest people traveled along this corridor beginning at least 1200 years ago.

Sample of ceramic sherds recovered our Roosevelt Lake excavations.

This transportation corridor was important during the early historic period as well – when both Ojibway and Dakota peoples used this route. Our discovery of a musket ball and other metal artifacts may be evidence of this historic period travel.

I’m looking forward to getting a closer look at our finds in the lab. We should be able to provide better answers to our questions – and start posing new questions. One conclusion is clear, however. There’s a lot more work to be done in the Roosevelt Lake area. I’m already starting to think about future field seasons ‘up north’.



  1. Can’t believe you found so much within site of the cabin- what fun! Wonder how many times I walked by! Thanks for all the info- we always knew that land was special, but not even more so! Now the next generation has some solid proof to fuel the Indian dreams that we all had wandering the woods!

    Sara- Linda’s neice/Roosevelt grandchild. BTW, my daughter is facinated!

  2. *sight*

  3. The finds sound wonderful. So glad your dig got to them, rather than them being plowed under and destroyed by some developer.

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