UW-L students unearth ancient civilization

HOLMEN, Wis. — Wednesday’s hot heat didn’t stop some UW-La Crosse students from unearthing the remains of an ancient civilization that once lived in our area.

The saying goes, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” and if the students dig deep enough, it just might land them a spot in the history books.

“The first day we came out here we were like, ‘how can you tell that from a clump of dirt?” said Shoshawna Umlor, a UW-L student.

Off highway 53 near Holmen, Umlor and about 15 of her classmates are digging for some unusual buried treasure.

“I mean to think about it, it’s kind of different,” said Umlor. “We’re digging through other people’s garbage basically, but I mean it’s pretty cool once you come to analyze everything.”

They’ve spent the last five weeks out at the site as part of an archaeology class. The students are looking for trash or bits of pottery, broken stone tools and animal bones that were left behind hundreds of thousands of years ago by some of the first Wisconsin farmers, a group named the Oneota.


“A lot of times, an archeological site is in your back yard and you don’t even realize it,” said David Anderson, UW-L archaeology professor.

It’s discoveries like this that Anderson said gives us a glimpse into how these people lived.

“We don’t have any written records for the group, so archeology allows us to understand how they were living, which contributes to our understanding of cultural diversity,” said Anderson. “We’re able to see how other groups live and to see that ours isn’t just the only way of life. It’s part of our human heritage and understanding of our human diversity.”

And as for the hands-on experience, the students said you can’t beat that either.

“It’s pretty sweet,” said Umlor. “I couldn’t have expected it to be any better. It’s been really interesting of finding things and thinking of who held them last. I don’t know, they have some pretty awesome trash.”

Scientists aren’t sure what happened to the Oneota culture. Some think its population slowly decreased with warfare or the introduction of European disease. Others say the population moved west and started bison hunting with other tribes.

Students will finish up their excavation Thursday. Then they will spend the next year washing, cataloging and analyzing the more than 23,500 artifacts and animal bones they collected so far.