University of Minnesota
Department of Anthropology


Academic Archaeology

Academic Archaeology, 1932 to the 1970s

The 1920s and 1930s saw the emergence of trends that are still important in Minnesota archaeology today. Though Lewis and Hill, Brower, and others had mapped thousands of mounds in Minnesota, and had examined (and in some cases amassed) large artifact collections, little was known about the prehistoric archaeological cultures of the state. This process of identification was the primary task of the third period of Minnesota archaeology. The period, which began in 1932 and extended into the 1970s, is marked by the establishment of a research program that involved the systematic excavation of sites from all regions of the state. This research program was almost single-handedly carried out by A. E. Jenks, Lloyd A. Wilford, and Elden Johnson, all of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

Albert E. Jenks

Albert E. JenksAlbert Ernest Jenks (1869-1953) is a key transitional figure between the natural history and academic periods in Minnesota archaeology. Like Newton Winchell and Warren Upham before him, he was a University of Minnesota academic who was a self-taught archaeologist (and anthropologist), though he did receive some training from Smithsonian Institution archaeologists (by Wesley Bradfield at Cameron Creek, New Mexico) when his research interests shifted to archaeology late in his career. Jenks achievements were remarkable considering that his focus on Minnesota archaeology was brief (1931-1938). He: (1) initiated the first academically-based archaeological research program in the state in 1932 (a program continued by his assistant, Lloyd A. Wilford, until his own retirement in 1959); (2) encouraged a state-wide reporting system in 1931 that resulted in the discovery of important early human skeletal remains (the Pelican Rapids-Minnesota Woman, Brown’s Valley, and Sauk Valley skeletons); and (3) was the first archaeologist to give special attention to mortuary sites on the Campbell Beach ridges of Glacial Lake Agassiz in northwestern Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas (in particular the Arvilla (39GF1) site in North Dakota in 1932). Jenks is the only professional Minnesota archaeologist to dedicate the majority of his attention (at least in publications) to the initial peopling of the state—and easily leads the pack of state archaeologists in the consistent prominence of his publication outlets (e.g., American Anthropologist, American Antiquity, Memoirs of the American Anthropologist, Science, and University of Minnesota Press).

Though Jenk’s contributions to Minnesota archaeology are largely ignored today, he was a seminal force in the establishment of a systematic, state-wide, cultural-historical approach to the state’s archaeological record, an approach that is still dominant in the state today. However, like Winchell, Upham, Jacob V. Brower, and other self-taught archaeologists in the natural history period, Jenks was known nationally at the time primarily for his controversial views on the Ice Age peopling of Minnesota and, more generally, of North America.

A. E. Jenks was born in Ionia, Michigan on November 28, 1869. An economics major as a college student, he received his undergraduate education at Kalamazoo College (a B.S. degree in 1896) and the University of Chicago (a B.S. degree in 1897), and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin (1899). For an economist, Jenks dissertation research at the University of Wisconsin was unusual, for it concerned the American Indian utilization of wild rice in the Great Lakes region. A revised and expanded version of his dissertation was published through the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in Washington, D.C., in 1900 as The Wild Rice Gatherers of the Upper Lakes: A Study in American Primitive Economics, a still important ethnographic study.

After completing his graduate work, Jenks worked for two years as economic editor of the journal American Thresherman, a farm journal. In recognition of his demonstrated, self-taught skills as an ethnographer, he was hired by the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) in 1901 and sent to Manila in the Philippines in 1902, where he had been appointed Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes in the newly acquired American possessions. In a progression typical of his career, he was promoted to chief of the Ethnological Survey for the Philippine Islands the following year, and as chief he spent the following three years studying the Bontoc Igorot in northern Luzon. His 1905 publication, The Bontoc Igorot, is a milestone in American anthropology, for it was one of the first ethnographic studies of a non-American Indian group by an American anthropologist. He also coordinated the Bontoc Igorot exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

After leaving the BAE in 1905, Jenks lectured for a year at the University of Wisconsin. In fall 1906 he joined the Department of Sociology at Minnesota, where he initiated the first anthropology courses at the University (and was promoted to professor in 1907). From 1915 to 1918, he served as chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and then chair of the Department of Anthropology after its creation in 1918 to his retirement in 1938. Along the way he established a national reputation, which eventually earned him election to the National Academy of Science.

Jenk’s accomplishments and awards as a scholar are prestigious: he was asked to contributed a statement on the future direction of anthropology, which appeared in a 1913 publication of the Carnegie Institution of Washington together with similar statements by two other leading anthropologists (1); he purportedly rejected an offer to head the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1917, worked with the Department of the Interior as a consultant to develop a plan for the assimilation of immigrants (2), and received an honorary Ph.D. degree in science from Kalamazoo College in 1924 in recognition of his many scholarly accomplishments; he served as Chair of the Division of Anthropology and Psychology of the National Research Council in 1923-1924 (during which time he lived in Washington, D.C.), was associate editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology from 1918 to 1930, and was Chair of the anthropology section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from 1920 to 1921. For his work in the Philippines, he was awarded a gold medal of honor by the Philippine government. (3)

The initial name of the Department of Anthropology (Anthropology and Americanization Training Course) reflects mainstream issues at the time in anthropology and American society at the end of the First World War (Soderstrom 2004). Many of the first courses taught by Jenks in anthropology addressed racial issues and practical social activism, for an active social agenda was an integral part of anthropology at the time. Among these courses were “The American People,” “The American Negro,” and “Physical Anthropology and Amalgamation.” Besides heading the University’s Americanization program (which he directed from 1919 to 1921), Jenks was a loudly vocal advocate of racial improvement through eugenics, was concerned with the biological integration of immigrants and Native Americans into mainstream American society, and engaged in a (now infamous) study of the racial purity of the White Earth Ojibwa band. (4) We should stress that none of these interests were outside mainstream anthropology at the time—and they are important here, for they provide a context for Jenks approach to the analysis of early human skeletal remains in Minnesota.

With the discontinuation of the Americanization emphasis at the University in 1922, the name of the Department of Anthropology and Americanization Training Course was shortened to the Department of Anthropology. By the time Wilson D. Wallis joined the faculty in 1923, a broader cross-cultural perspective had become dominant in the discipline. Because of a lack of opportunities for academic appointments in anthropology, Jenks and Wallis maintained a two-person department that emphasized undergraduate teaching, though Wilford and a series of visiting professors were yearly non-tenured associates. After Jenks retirement in 1938, Wallis maintained this emphasis, with its (negative) implications for graduate-level research in Minnesota archaeology.

Jenks research interests shifted to archaeology toward the end of the 1920s. The reasons remain obscure, but motivating factors may have been the fading of the Americanization emphasis and continuing influences from acquaintances at the Smithsonian Institution, many of whom were archaeologists. It is perhaps worth mentioning, too, that like many natural historians he had dabbled in archaeology at times. Johnson, for example, mentions that he collected arrowheads as a child in Michigan, participated in the excavation of a site in Minnesota shortly after his appointment to the University, and apparently excavated a burial mound near Willmar, Minnesota, in 1925 to test the Mound Builder interpretation. (5)

Whatever his motivation, Jenks began his career as an archaeologist by taking a group of students to the Galaz site on the southeast slopes of the Gila Mountains in New Mexico in 1928. (6) Lloyd A. Wilford, who was one of the students, became Jenk’s assistant the following year at Galaz and remained in that position until Jenks retirement in 1938. Jenks’s excavations at Galaz were supported by contributions from wealthy local Minnesota businessmen (through the Archaeological Research Fund), with the agreement that half of his collections would go to the Institute of Fine Arts (now the Minneapolis Institute of Art). In 1930, Jenks and Wilford participated in a Beloit College excavation under the direction of Alonzo Pond of a Capsian shell midden site (shell midden 12 at Ain Beida) in central Algeria. In a quirk of fate for Minnesota archaeology, Jenks misspent funds (at least in the eyes of his patrons) while in Europe on a large collection of Paleolithic material and several smaller collections. When he was forbidden to solicit additional private funds for archaeological work outside the state by an upset University Board of Regents (7), Jenks promptly initiated a field research program in archaeology in Minnesota—which, according to Elden Johnson, marks the beginning of serious scientific archaeology in Minnesota. (8) Wilford more graciously says the area switch was due to a shortfall of funds during the Great Depression and to the challenge of increasingly interesting work by archaeologists in neighboring states. (9)

Jenks involvement in Minnesota archaeology was divided between two objectives. The first was to demonstrate that Minnesota was of pivotal importance in “early man” studies because of its glacial history. He thought that glacial and even pre-glacial human remains might be present in clearly stratified glacial and interglacial deposits in heavily glaciated Minnesota. After passing through the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska, he reasoned that early forms of humans would most likely have traveled through Hudson Bay and then up the Nelson River, through Lake Winnipeg, and up the Red River to the state or through other rivers and down the Missouri to Minnesota. When they arrived in the state, they could have lived in the unglaciated “driftless” patches in its southwestern and southeastern corners.

Jenks CoverBased on these assumptions, Jenk’s initiated an “early man” research program by writing a letter on April 27, 1931, to C. M. Babcock, then State Commissioner of Highways, suggesting that his department cooperate with the University of Minnesota and report any subsurface discoveries of human or animal bones, artifacts, or pieces of wood during the course of road building. On June 18, 1931, he received a telephone call from P. F. Stary, then State Highway Maintenance Superintendent at Detroit Lakes. Highway workers had encountered a skeleton under a highway near Pelican Rapids in west central Minnesota. Because the skeleton was so deep in the earth, Superintendent Stary felt that it was probably very important. Following a year of study, Jenks became convinced that the skeleton was of late Pleistocene (Ice Age) origin, some 20,000 years ago. He dubbed the skeleton “Minnesota Man” (in spite of the fact that it was the skeleton of a fifteen or sixteen year old woman) and published his analysis in Pleistocene Man in Minnesota (1936). Numerous geologists or students of geology visited the site, including Ernst Antevs, Kirk Bryan, George Thiel, Clinton Stauffer, George F. Kay, Morris M. Leighton, Paul MacClintock, Henry Retzek, Franklin Hanley, and Ernest Berg. (10) According to Johnson, Wilford actually did most of the analysis and wrote the text. (11) In recent years, the Pelican Rapids-Minnesota Woman individual has been radiocarbon dated to about 8,000 years ago (AMS date of 7890 ± 70 B. P.).

Browns Valley CoverEncouraged by the early Minnesota Woman discovery, Jenks continued his effort to demonstrate a glacial or even a pre-glacial human presence in Minnesota. In 1933 a second skeleton was found in Brown’s Valley in western Minnesota and a third in Sauk Valley in west-central Minnesota in 1935, both in gravel pits. Jenks published a monograph on the Brown’s Valley find as an American Anthropological Association Memoir in 1937. This find has been recently radiocarbon dated to about 9,000 years ago (AMS date of 8790-9049 ± 88/110 B.P.). The Sauk Valley individual, which was described in a brief joint publication with Wilford in 1938 (also see Bryan, Retzek, and McCann 1938), has been radiocarbon dated to 4,200 years ago (AMS date of 4360-4190 ± 70 B.P.). (12) Although Jenks claims for a glacial age for these three skeletons have been rejected by authorities, he at least fueled widespread interest in the presence of early Native Americans in Minnesota.

Jenks second objective was the formation of a local field research program in archaeology, which he initiated in 1932 with a modest research grant from the Regents of $600 per year and some support by several wealthy Minnesota citizens. (13) During the remaining six years of his career, he systematically investigated a wide variety of sites throughout the state, a pattern that Wilford followed for the next two decades. (14) Undoubtedly most of these excavations were conceived by Wilford, who used the material for his doctoral dissertation, since Jenk’s attention was focused on his series of early human skeletons and other scholarly activities.

Of particular importance to Jenks during this period was his discovery of 400-800 skeletons (?) at the Arvilla gravel pit in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. (15) Only a few artifacts were found, including some beads, a sandstone ‘whetstone,’ a ball of red ocher, a now-missing bone knife, two harpoons, a knife, and a skin dresser. His 1932 article concentrates on the latter four artifacts, which he thought were of ivory and demonstrated the migration of people from "an area considerably farther north, and that said area was probably accessible to Eskimo cultural influence.".

Jenks contributions to Minnesota archaeology are largely ignored today for several reasons. His “overbearing posture” (others more kindly refer to his “genial dignity”) and his remissive treatment of Wilford, who in reality (it seems) was responsible for much of the archaeological work in Minnesota published under Jenk’s name, fueled resentment in Wilford, and eventually in Johnson, who worked closely with Wilford in the late 1950s. (16) A consequence was that references to Jenks soon fade from their publications. (17). A second and more decisive reason was the racist thinking embedded in his skeletal analyses. The following quotation is typical:

"Compared to the much earlier 'Minnesota Man' the Browns Valley specimen is less primitive. The lack of retraction of the jaws, with which is associated pronounced alveolar prognathism, the gorilla-like form of the lower border of the nasal aperture, the very small nasal spine, remnants of an incisive suture, huge teeth, and certain primitive characteristics in the crown indices, relative sizes, and crown patterns of the teeth of “Minnesota Man” are lacking in our present specimen." (18)

In the quotation, “primitive” refers to “human morphological features … that show similarities to those of primates other than man, or to known specimens of Paleolithic man, or to existing peoples in a low stage of culture, as contrasted with the culturally more advanced groups, such as Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese." (19). A final reason, of course, is that Jenks was never able to convince authorities at the time (and today) that he had truly discovered “glacial man” in Minnesota.

Lloyd A. Wilford

Like all of Minnesota’s early professional archaeologists (Winchell, Upham, Brower, Lewis, Jenks), archaeology was not Lloyd Alden Wilford’s (1894-1982) first career choice. Besides teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in South Dakota at the age of 17 after two years at Lawrence University, Wilford, who was born in Baldwin, Wisconsin, served in the China theater with the U.S. Navy in World War I, worked for the U.S. Veterans Administration in Minneapolis, earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota (1920), and opened a private law practice with two friends in St. Paul in 1924. He later earned a Master’s degree in political science—all before his first archaeological experience at the age of 35.(20)

Wilford North AfricaWilford had returned to the University of Minnesota in his mid-30s for graduate work in political science. Needing a graduate minor, he chose anthropology because he had heard that Albert E. Jenks, the chair of the Department of Anthropology, was a good lecturer. (21) That summer (1928) he accompanied Jenks and a group of other students to the Galaz site in New Mexico. After completing his Master’s thesis in political science the following academic year, he became Jenks assistant and worked with him at Galaz in 1929 and at a North African Capsian shell-midden site in 1930. Wilford remained Jenks assistant until Jenks’ retirement in 1938 and at the University of Minnesota until his own retirement in 1959, by which time he had brought Minnesota archaeology into the modern era as an empirically-based social science firmly centered at the University. The picture in the paragraph shows (from right) Jenks, Ralph Brown, Wilford, and a companion in Algeria.

Enthused by his experience at Galaz and in North Africa, Wilford enrolled in the Ph.D. program in anthropology at Harvard University in 1932. After three semesters in residence, he passed his qualifying examinations and returned to Minnesota, where he resumed his role as Jenks’s assistant. His dissertation (Minnesota Archaeology with Special Reference to the Mound Area), which was completed in 1937, was based on the fieldwork that he and Jenks had carried out every summer since 1932. Though unpublished, the dissertation marked a significant turning point in the study of Minnesota archaeology, for it was the first formal attempt to classify Minnesota’s pre-contact cultures and, on the basis of their material remains and inferred customs, their relationships to historic tribal groups (Johnson 1974:2). It was also one of the earliest attempts to apply the then emerging Midwestern Taxonomic System (McKern 1934, 1939), and contains still important discussions of the Kathio, Howard Lake, Blackduck Lake, Laurel, Round Mound, and Tudahl Rock Shelter sites.(23)

It remains unclear whether Wilford decided to focus on Minnesota archaeology because of a personal interest in the diversity of the archaeological record in the state or because the Regents of the University of Minnesota had “grounded” his boss, Jenks, for an inappropriate expenditure of funds while in Europe in 1930 (see the profile on Jenks). Since Wilford was Jenks’s assistant, it is reasonable to assume that his research activities depended on Jenks’s research interests—and that his eventual emergence as the “father of Minnesota archaeology” was the result of happenstance.

Lloyd WilfordParalleling the procedure being initiated by W. C. McKern in Wisconsin, Charles R. Keyes in Iowa, William D. Strong and William H. Over in the northeastern Plains, and archaeologists in other north central states and provinces at the time, Jenks and Wilford launched a field research program in 1932 whose main goal was the identification of Minnesota’s pre-contact archaeological cultures and their association where possible with historic tribes. Since very little was known about the number, characteristics, and temporal relationships of these cultures (and Minnesota is approximately 80,000 square miles in extent), this was a monumental task for a two-person team in a state that lacked freeways and other modern conveniences of travel. Their strategy was to systematically sample sites of diverse archaeological cultures in different environmental zones in the state each field season. Once sampled, site materials were described according to a general shared format (described below) and compared over broad areas using the Midwestern Taxonomic System. The picture in the paragraph shows Wilford on the left with W. C. McKern (second from right) and other archaeologists at a conference.

When Jenks retired in 1938, Wilford continued his Civil Service appointment as an archaeologist assigned to the Department of Anthropology. He began teaching classes in the department during World War II and was appointed associate professor in 1948. Shortly thereafter he was promoted to professor, a rank he held until his retirement. Throughout most of the period from 1938 (the year Jenks retired) to 1959, Wilford was the only professional archaeologist working in Minnesota. During this time, he followed the pattern of research he had developed with Jenks. Because he did not have teaching duties during spring quarter, he began an annual three-phase research cycle at that time. The first (spring) phase was a scouting trip through the state, during which he made new contacts with landowners, amateur archaeologists, and collectors, checked on the condition of sites (mostly those listed in Winchell’s 1911 Aborigines of Minnesota), and made arrangements for the excavations he would conduct that summer. After each scouting trip, he transcribed his notes and placed them in files organized by county, along with his correspondence and other information he had collected. Copies of many of these manuscripts are now on file in the Office of the State Historic Preservation Office; the originals are stored by the Minnesota Historical Society at Fort Snelling. (24)

In the second (summer) phase of his research cycle, Wilford took a small group of students (usually two to six) out to conduct excavations at the sites he had selected. Following the strategy that he and Jenks had developed, he excavated sites in different environmental areas of the state and of different archaeological cultures most years (see the list of Wilford’s excavations by year in Johnson 1974a:6-7). As a rule, he began his excavations in the southeastern corner of the state, gradually moved northward to sites near the border, and then moved to a Mississippian site in the south-central/southwestern part of the state. Excavation at a site rarely lasted more than two weeks, during which he and his crew camped. His preferences in excavation were burial and habitation sites, in that order. The budget for each season was quite small, ranging from $300 per year in the 1930s to $600 per year by the time of his retirement.

On leaving the field, Wilford entered the third (fall-winter) phase of his research cycle. The focus of this phase was the careful cataloguing and description of the materials he had excavated that summer, and the preparation of a typed report on each excavated site. These reports follow a standard format: (1) description of site location, (2) excavation procedure, (3) description of features (if any), (4) description and analysis of artifacts, and (5) (a brief) comparative analysis. Since he believed that there was a general interest in site reports (but no interested publication outlet), he placed them in a file in the archaeology laboratory, where they were available to his peers. He also maintained a photographic archive, county notes (as mentioned above), and a carefully catalogued artifact collection. For professional and public audiences, he prepared regional syntheses and other summary statements. Wilford followed this schedule throughout his career, except for the war years of 1942-1946.

Wilford conducted statewide archaeological research on an unprecedented scale. Moving quickly up and down the state in an effort to gather as much research data as possible during each season, he established a level of accomplishment in the state that has not been duplicated since. His approach emphasized description, classification, and, to a lesser extent, chronology and culture history. His methodology was essentially inductive. It also incorporated a direct historic approach that led (in hindsight) to faulty conclusions about archaeological and historic culture relationships. In his words, his goals were “to discover and study the material remains of the prehistoric Indians in order to classify them into distinct cultural divisions or complexes on the basis of similarities and differences, and then to relate these various divisions or complexes to one another in civilization and of relative place in time..." and to "connect the cultural complexes found in Minnesota with those found in other states, and to identify these complexes with historically known tribes as far as possible." (25) In all he excavated approximate 90 sites, while shifting his focus during his career from the excavation of burial mounds to habitation sites. (26)

The conceptual approach he used to achieve these goals, as mentioned above, was the recently developed Midwestern Taxonomic System. In that system archaeological materials are organized in an ascending hierarchy from component to focus, aspect, phase, and pattern based solely on degree of trait (e.g., artifact, feature) similarity.

Wilford spelled out his working assumptions in a 1954 statement: (27)

  1. The inclusion of detailed description and analysis of site data is a necessary prerequisite to the interpretation of archaeological information;
  2. The culture context and the spatial/temporal relationship between site and complexes are fundamental to all archaeological research and reporting;
  3. Presenting inferences and interpretations without data to support them is bad science.

Wilford’s descriptions and analyses of regional archaeological cultures in Minnesota still form the classificatory basis for much of the work carried out in the state. His first published synthesis appeared in American Antiquity in 1941 in an article appropriately titled “A Tentative Classification of the Prehistoric Cultures of Minnesota.” This article was an updated version of the classification that he had worked out in his unpublished 1937 dissertation. It organized materials within the framework of the Midwestern Taxonomic System, with an emphasis on the focus and aspect. He defined a number of archaeological cultures at the aspect level, including Oneota, Effigy Mound, Mille Lacs, Headwaters Lakes, Rainy River, Red River, and Southern Minnesota. A number of foci for some of the aspects were also defined and described. These include Orr, Blue Earth, and Humphrey for Oneota, and Kathio, Howard Lake, Blackduck, Laurel, Arvilla, and Lake Traverse for the Woodland Pattern. In these overviews, his use of the term ‘culture’ frequently slips from one level to another, depending on the context of his discussion.

A revised classification in 1955 added the Malmo focus and deleted the Lake Traverse aspect, and, importantly, deviated from the strictures of the Midwestern Taxonomic System, at least as advocated by McKern, by including temporal divisions His temporal divisions were largely based on the relative stratigraphic position of traits and on conversations with regional archaeologists at conferences. His final synthesis in 1960 more explicitly added the dimension of time and addressed pre-ceramic (Paleoindian, Archaic) periods in greater detail than before. (28)

In his synthetic papers, Wilford described three new Mississippian cultural units in 1945 (Great Oasis, Cambria, and Silvernale), and expanded his definition of the Mille Lacs aspect, the Headwaters Lakes aspect, and the McKinstry Mounds of the Rainy River aspect. (29) A series of shorter papers were also published that describe specific sites and artifacts from around the state. (30)

Wilford’s chronological understanding of the temporal relationship of archaeological units was hindered by an absence at the time of an accurate absolute dating method, and by the explicit organizational goals of the Midwestern Taxonomic System. According to McKern, the system is a tool for organizing archaeological materials in a hierarchy modeled after that of taxonomic systems in biology (a main purpose for its formulation at the time was the organization of the rapidly expanding mass of excavated materials throughout the Eastern United States, in particular through government funded WPA excavations). It is not a tool intended for interpretive endeavors, such as the establishment of temporal relationships between taxonomic units or the reconstruction of prehistoric life-ways. Nonetheless, the delineation of cultural units does provide a basis for these more problem-oriented types of approaches.

Many of Wilford’s taxonomic units, in particular Kathio, Blackduck, Laurel, Arvilla, Howard Lake, Blue Earth, and Orr, are still used today, though contemporary archaeologists rarely use the terms focus, aspect, phase, and pattern, at least in the manner intended by McKern (stated another way, the formality of classificatory approaches has largely disappeared, most likely because of the invention of the radiocarbon dating method in the late 1940s; radiocarbon dating provides an independent method of organizing archaeological assemblages and cultures in time).

Between the late 1930s and late 1950s, Wilford served as unofficial state archaeologist. His position was based on a stature that was passed in 1939 through his efforts and that of the Rev. Henry Retzek, who had described the Sauk Valley skeleton. The stature prohibited excavation on archaeological sites without a permit and named the Minnesota Department of Conservation as administrator. It also required that a professional archaeologist employed by the University of Minnesota be given the responsibility of certifying applications for excavation. Although funds were never appropriated and enforcement of the stature was sporadic at best, the law provided some measure of protection for sites in the state.

Lloyd Wilford retired from the University of Minnesota in 1959 and was succeeded by Elden Johnson, the last major figure in the academic period of Minnesota archaeology. In all Wilford excavated no fewer than 112 sites in 46 Minnesota counties (and multiple times at some of these sites), wrote site reports on all but a few of these excavations, and published over 20 articles on Minnesota archaeology. His contribution to state prehistory remains impressive. His cultural unit classification scheme is still applicable, despite its limitations in dealing with the complexities of the prehistoric era, as they are now perceived. It provides a basic framework for future archaeological research, and a means by which midwestern archaeologists can compare and contrast the archaeological record in their state or province to Minnesota’s. His field techniques, notes, and site reports were exemplary at the time and still provide reliable data for research. For all of these reasons, Lloyd Wilford is rightfully recognized as the founding father of Minnesota prehistoric archaeology. Elden Johnson, his friend and successor, prepared a festschrift in his honor that was published in 1974. (31)

Elden Johnson

Like all other Minnesota archaeologists who had preceded him, Elden Johnson came toElden Johnson archaeology with a rich and diverse background. He was born in Brookings, South Dakota in 1923, where his father worked for the state’s fish and game division. When his father joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the family moved from one job location to another, including Pierre, South Dakota, Denver, Colorado, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. After graduating from high school in Albuquerque, Johnson entered the premed program at the University of New Mexico. However, World War II interrupted and he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at the age of 18 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the war, he flew numerous missions as a P-38 pilot with the First Flight Group, first in North Africa and then in Italy. (32)

After being discharged in 1945, he came to Minnesota where his father was now regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and enrolled in the University of Minnesota. A chance course on acculturation taught by Richard Beardsley, a temporary instructor from the University of California, Berkeley, stimulated his interest in anthropology. He began working during his undergraduate years at the St. Paul Science Museum (now the Science Museum of Minnesota), where he was put to work cataloguing an attic full of ethnographic gifts. Based on this experience, the Science Museum sent him to Browning, Montana, to catalogue the Great Northern ethnographic collection, which consisted mainly of Blackfoot material culture. Stimulated by these experiences, Johnson’s interests turned to the cultural anthropology of the Indians of the Great Plains, and, after graduating in 1948 with a double major in anthropology and zoology, he conducted fieldwork for his Master’s Degree on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The topic of his thesis was kinship relationships on the reservation.

After completing his Master’s Degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Johnson entered the Ph.D. program at Yale University in fall 1950. At first sent to Chile to carry out exploratory fieldwork for his dissertation, he was eventually sent to Southeast Asia (Cambodia and Thailand), where his dissertation research was interrupted by the outbreak of the French-Indonesian War and a bout with anemic dysentery. Frustrated and discouraged, he returned to Minnesota without completing his Ph.D. degree in 1953, although his interest in the anthropology and archaeology of South and Southeast Asia continued throughout his career.

Once back in Minnesota, Johnson began working fulltime for the Science Museum, while teaching a course or two each quarter at the University of Minnesota. Although his primary training was in cultural anthropology, he had attended Wilford’s field school in 1948, during which he excavated at the Bartron (21GD2), Gillingham (21YM3), Roseau River (21RO4), Nett Lake (21KC1), Riehl (21FL8), Gautefald (21YM1), and Christensen (21SH1) sites, and soon became deeply involved in archaeology as his first major project at the Science Museum. Beginning in 1954, he directed a two-year, Hill-funded Science Museum study of the archaeology and ethnography of Spring Lake Park, which is just south of St. Paul on the Mississippi River. During the project, he examined the Lee Mill Cave, Sorg, Schilling, Hamm, Renelius, and Bremer sites, a complex which until that time was poorly known. (33)

In 1955, Johnson was hired as a fulltime instructor in archaeology at the University while remaining a part-time curator at the Science Museum. Although Johnson had earlier expressed an interest in teaching at the University, nepotism rules meant that he could not be hired because his brother was teaching there at the time; he was hired when his brother left the University. His strong preference was to be hired as a cultural anthropologist, but because of the approaching retirement of Wilford and his own recent involvement in state archaeology, he was hired as an archaeologist with a regional focus. During the 1958-1959 term, he accepted the post of Director of the Science Museum on a part-time basis but, after deciding that constant fund-raising was not to his liking, returned to the University as an associate professor. From 1955 to 1959, he also worked on Wilford’s projects and, during Wilford’s last field season, excavated with him at the Fraz site and in Roberts County, North Dakota.

During the next decade, Johnson dramatically expanded the archaeology program at the University and, as was happening in many parts of the country in the 1960s, shifted its emphasis to a problem-oriented, regional focus. He also initiated the first graduate training program in the Department of Anthropology that resulted in Master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations that focused on Minnesota archaeology. Graduate students who completed a Minnesota-focused Master’s thesis under his direction include Peter Bleed (1969), Ruthann Knutson Shay (1966), James B. Stoltman (1973), David Webster (1967) …. At the Ph.D. level, Tom Shay (1970), Jack Steinbring (1975), Charles Watrall (1976), Christy Caine-Hohman (1983), and Mary Whalen (1987) wrote Minnesota-focused dissertations under his direction. Johnson was also the adviser or co-adviser of doctoral candidates whose dissertations focused on different geographical areas or non-archaeological topics. Included among these students were Dwight Rokala (1971), Dennis Dickinson (1972), Gary Hume (1972), Richard Jordan (1975), Bishnu Shrestta (1982), Lewis Messenger (1984), Laurie Lucking (1984), and Barbara Withrow (1991).

Johnson’s initial regional surveys focused on the Red River Valley and northwest Minnesota in general in part to test Jenks ideas about the association of early cultures with older beach ridges of Glacial Lake Agassiz. (34) His initial surveys were funded by the National Science Foundation and additional regional work begun in 1960 was funded by the Minnesota Resources Commission (MRC). Many of the archaeological excavations carried out in the state in the 1960s were funded by the MRC and a thoughtful plan for working with the state’s archaeological resources was developed.

Leland CooperJohnson’s northwest regional focus was interrupted by Leland Cooper’s discovery of substantial village remains in Mille Lacs-Kathio State Park along the Rum River outlet of Mille Lacs Lake in 1965. As part of his work with the state parks, Johnson had sent Cooper, who had worked with him on the Spring Lake project, to test sites in the park. Wilford (1944b) and Wisconsin’s Will McKern (1963) had associated the Kathio-Clam River focus with the proto-historic Dakota, but Johnson doubted the relationship because accumulating evidence seemed to suggest that the focus pre-dated the proto-historic period by hundreds of years. (35) The picture in the paragraph shows Leland Cooper troweling at the Cooper site (21ML9).

Cooper had tested what are now known as the Cooper, Sawmill, and Petaga sites andJohnson at Cooper Site discovered a wealth of material that prompted Johnson to shift his focus from the northwest to Mille Lacs, where he initiated a long-term research project that lasted until 1976. (36) Theses, monographs, and papers based on these excavations appeared regularly for two decades (see Streiff 1990), though no comprehensive site reports on most of these excavations were ever prepared. (37) Though Johnson received a Minnesota Humanities Commission grant (?) in the 1980s for the completion of these studies, a series of misfortunes, including the death of a graduate student working on the project, and his own illness and early death, precluded their completion. The picture in the paragraph shows Johnson (second from right), Wilford (on the right), and Gordon Lothson, a graduate student, at a Mille Lacs Locality site (21ML16).

Johnson also spanned the transition years of the 1960s and 1970s between the academic and compliance-based emphases in archaeology in the state. Although Wilford had served as unofficial state archaeologist following the passage of a stature in 1939 to protect sites, it was not until the passage in 1963 of the Field Archaeology Act that a state archaeologist was specifically designated. According to the Act, the archaeologist was to be located at the University, though the administrative responsibility for the position was shifted to the Minnesota Historical Society. Johnson was appointed Minnesota’s first State Archaeologist and served in that unpaid position until 1979. Unfortunately, the 1963 act did not appropriate funds for the position, except for the use of a vehicle and some ancillary expenses.

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As State Archaeologist, Johnson was instrumental in developing several other critical aspects of archaeology in Minnesota:

  • In the 1960s, he shifted the focus of regional research at the University of Minnesota from classificatory-historical concerns to studies of subsistence and settlement patterns, and to issues of human paleoecology more generally, and to long-term development sequences in specific localities (in his case, the Mille Lacs Locality).
  • He strongly believed in the publication of professional results and, in cooperation with the Minnesota Historical Society, he began the Minnesota Prehistoric Archaeology Series, which served as an outlet for a number of key site reports and edited papers, including several based on Wilford’s earlier work.
  • He was also firmly committed to public education about archaeology. To fulfill this goal, he prepared three editions of the popular Prehistoric Peoples of Minnesota and developed a series of other public programs both at the University of Minnesota and later at the Institute of Minnesota Archaeology.
  • He worked more closely than other archaeologists at the time with the living descendants of the Native Americans whose remains archaeologists were investigating. He was one of three anthropologists to meet with Native Americans to discuss the management of archaeological resources at the important Arlie House seminar in the early 1970s. (38)
  • He believed that professional archaeologists as a community with shared interests should work together. Though Cooper had developed a program in archaeology at Hamline University in St. Paul quite early (as had Louis Powell to a lesser extent at the Science Museum, who had focused on Spring Lake and the lower St. Croix Valley), similar programs did not emerge at St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Mankato State, and Moorhead State until the great expansion of anthropology throughout colleges and universities across the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To unify this growing professional community, he formed the Council for Minnesota Archaeology in 1971, which still acts to promote and facilitate communication among professional archaeologists working in the state.
  • While Chair of the Department of Anthropology, he increased the number of regional archaeologists at the University by promoting the hiring in 1973 of Janet Spector and Guy Gibbon, who provided expertise in ethnohistory/historical archaeology and Midwestern pre-contact archaeology, respectively.
  • During the 1970s, Johnson recognized the emerging importance of compliance (CRM) archaeology and began to devote an increasing amount of effort to compliance surveys with his students, most notably in the Headwaters Lakes area, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and on Prairie Island near Red Wing. (39) He also instituted courses in CRM and instituted a public archaeology graduate option at the University in the Department of Anthropology.

Although Johnson encouraged students and professional colleagues to prepare reports on his important excavations in the Mille Lacs Lake region, he was faced at the time with a dilemma common to academic archaeologists of his generation. From the late 1960s into the early 1980s, he was the best qualified professional archaeologist in the state, especially as State Archaeologist (a position he inherited from Wilford), to oversee the investigation of the rapidly escalating number of mitigation projects required by new federal and state laws or mandates. The dilemma: if he concentrated on that option, his excavations in the Mille Lacs Lake region would be neglected; if he concentrated on his excavations in the Mille Lacs Lake region, mitigation investigations in Minnesota would not have been as professionally carried out as they were. He chose the first option (which we agree with), with the understanding that reports on the Mille Lacs Lake material would eventually be prepared. (40)

Elden Johnson retired from the University of Minnesota in 1987 and became Executive Director of the Institute of Minnesota Archaeology on whose board he had served since 1982. He stepped down in 1991 and died of cancer in 1992. As professor and state archaeologist, Elden Johnson deeply influenced many people who remember him fondly today. Jan Streiff has prepared a list of his extensive publications. (41)

Not all institutionally supported research effort during this period was run through the University of Minnesota. In 1960 and 1961, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Robert Wheeler led diving expeditions to several rapids in northeastern Minnesota in search of fur trade era artifacts. In conversation with Dr. E. B. David, who had traveled extensively throughout the Arrowhead County locating and investigating taconite deposits, Wheeler became convinced that fur trade era canoes had most likely capsized at dangerous rapids along the Voyageur’s Highway that followed the state’s northern border. Wheeler’s expeditions were spectacularly successful, recovering a wide range of fur trade items, including nested trade kettles and trade gun parts. In 1963, the First International Underwater Archaeological Conference was held in St. Paul, heralding the emergence of a new dimension of archaeological research in North America. The program continued with the financial support of the National Geographical Society and the Hill Foundation, among other institutions, in St. Paul until 1976, during which period Wheeler, who had a strong interest in public archaeology, and his colleagues at the Minnesota Historical Society prepared public exhibitions that highlighted their methodology and discoveries.(42)

Although Leland Cooper began his career at Hamline University in St. Paul in 1944, the major onset of archaeological programs at state universities in Minnesota began in the late 1960s and 1970s. Richard Lane and Alan Brew were hired at St. Cloud State and Bemidji State, respectively, in 1969, Richard Strachan at Mankato State in 1971, and Mike Michlovic at Moorhead State in 1975. Michael Scullin, who was hired as a cultural anthropologist at Mankato State in the late 1960s, too, later turned his attention to local archaeology.18 Like North American academic archaeologists in general at the time, these archaeologists, like those at the University of Minnesota, became engaged in a mixture of research and cultural resource management activities by the mid-1970s.

In retrospect, the main characteristics of the academic period in Minnesota are:

  • Movement of prehistoric archaeology into the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota early in the period and the development of an increasingly state-focused research program.
  • A focus on both mound and habitation sites in order to learn about the life ways of earlier Minnesotans.
  • A concentration on the construction of culture histories through time for all parts of the state.
  • The professionalization of archaeology.
  • The appointment of the first official State Archaeologist of Minnesota.
  • A continuation of a low-level of state and university funding for archaeological field and laboratory research in the State of Minnesota.
  • The development of explicit, problem-oriented regional research programs, especially at Mille Lacs.
  • The development of archaeology programs at state universities late in the period.
  • The gradual shift in emphasis at the end of the period to cultural resource management (CRM) objectives.