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Horicon excavation scratches the surface: Finds prompt efforts to pursue further digs

May 27, 2018

HORICON — An archaeological excavation at the Satterlee Clark House last Saturday yielded results, but archaeologist Kurt Sampson is determined to dig deeper.

Many items from the Clark family’s occupancy, dating back as far as 1832, were found, but no prehistoric native artifacts were revealed. All that remains is to look at other locations, or to reopen the sites opened that last Saturday and to move deeper into the ancient past of Horicon Marsh and its long-ago occupants.

Two rectangular grids were marked and sod was removed and set aside for later replacement. Layers were excavated, beginning with shovels and slowing to trowels and brushes as artifacts were revealed. Soil was placed into buckets and was filtered through mesh screens. Two 10-centimeter levels were excavated before time ran out and the areas were refilled.

“The dig went well,” said Sampson, a former president of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and curator of the Dodge County Historical Society Museum in Beaver Dam. “We have more than 30 children from age four to the early teens and a half-dozen adults that came, and we found some wonderful artifacts, although most of them are connected to the Clarks, and not to Native American people.”

Diggers included Sampson, Dr. Seth Schneider from UW-Milwaukee, Kenosha Public Museum Director Dr. Dan Joyce and UW-Milwaukee master’s degree students Kevin Akemann, Alex Anthony and Rachel Davies.

Among the artifacts discovered are Civil War-era glass marbles, an almost-mint condition 1901 Indian head penny, pre-Civil War porcelain doll parts, pieces of plates and glassware, square nails, a rusted latch from a wood-burning stove, shell and metal buttons, a ring without its gem stone and numerous small (rodent) and large (cow) animal bones.

The items connected to native people included pieces of Late Woodland style pottery (of more recent times) and flakes of stone left from the process of flint knapping (forming arrowheads and other stone tools).

More was learned about the Clarks as well, as the corner of a building (possibly a summer kitchen) was discovered in the trench to the west of the current brick structure.

Everyone participated, including the children, who were intently involved in the task.

“They were extremely careful and highly focused throughout the process,” Sampson said. “At no point were they disinterested or looking for something else to do.”

Sampson was more than happy with the results, although he admits he had hoped to find more native items similar to those found in an earlier excavation.

The house (built in 1855) and other buildings are occupied by the Horicon Historical Society on what is arguably one of the most historic locations in the region. Some of the artifacts found about a decade ago were fairly modern, and some may have dated back to the days before the arrival of the first white men.

“Artifacts were discovered between the house and a one-room school that also houses a collection of amateur archaeological finds,” Sampson said. “Lahnnie and Kevin Neu, who live nearby, oversee the site for the historical society. Their son, Lahn, was digging to lay a path and as soon as the sod was removed, artifacts started popping up.”

Lahn, and others, found square nails, broken pottery, a boar’s tusk, trade beads, bone beads, part of a musket stock, pieces of glass and pieces of small figurines. Sampson calls it a potential midden — a trash pit that served both native and later occupants.

Those sites, being farther away from the Clark home, were less likely to have been disturbed for the excav.ation of the home’s basement, by gardening or other more recent activity.

The latest digs may begin a new chapter in the study of early natives’ largely undocumented, but fascinating, past.

“We didn’t find anything ancient during this recent dig, but we know it’s there waiting for us,” Sampson said “We still have much more digging to do.”

The public will be made aware of any future digs, should they be pursued in the future.