Archaeology at the Beaver Creek Trail Crossing Site

This post was originally featured on the Nebraska State Historical Society Blog at Content reproduced with permission.

[The following blog post is the third in a series of posts highlighting archaeological sites that relate to Nebraska’s Statehood or date to the period around 1867! This series will run through September in celebration of Nebraska Archaeology Month and our state’s Sesquicentennial!]

A number of early Nebraska settlements and townsites were relocated or abandoned over the years as transportation routes changed in response to the construction of new trails, railroads, and highways. The town of Beaver Crossing, located today three miles south of Interstate 80 along the Blue River, is one such town no longer found in its original location.

Roland Reed Ranch, Beaver Crossing, Nebraska

Roland Reed Ranch, Beaver Crossing, Nebraska 1866 (Nebraska State Historical Society Collections)

In 1862, entrepreneurs established a road ranch at the ford of Beaver Creek along the Nebraska City Cut-Off, one of many branches of the Oregon-California Trail. This cut-off, established in 1846, ran from Old Fort Kearny (Nebraska City) to New Fort Kearny (Kearney). Travel on the trail increased after Nebraska became a territory in 1854 and continued on through the early 1870s. Encouraged by the prosperity at the road ranch during the 1860s, several additional businesses, including a post office and general store were established, and the town of Beaver Crossing was born. Within a decade, however, travel along the trail had declined making business no longer economically feasible. The construction of a gristmill on the Blue River roughly four miles to the southeast of town, as well as the placement of a nearby railroad spelled the end of the original Beaver Crossing townsite in 1871.

Nebraska Archeology Site 25SW49, Beaver Crossing

Overview of Archeological Site 25SW49, including Trail Ruts along the West Side of Beaver Creek.

The original site of Beaver Crossing became the focus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Archaeological Field School in 2005 and 2006. Local informants had contacted the Nebraska State Historical Society and UNL regarding the site, designated archaeological site 25SW49, in 2004. Depressions, low mounds, and trail rut segments, were visible on the present ground surface. Prior to excavations, magnetic, resistance, and ground penetrating radar geophysical surveys were conducted on portions of the site to identify areas likely to yield important archaeological information. Several features related to early Beaver Crossing buildings as well as the original trail ruts were visible in the data. Based on these results, 72 square meters were excavated at the site during the 2005-2006 field school seasons, with over 16,000 artifacts recovered.

Conductivity Data at Beaver Crossing Nebraska

Geophysical Conductivity Data showing the Trail Ruts (bottom, linear), Well (circular feature), and Features associated with a ranch building (top, blue).

During the excavation, it became apparent that the original site of Beaver Crossing had not simply been abandoned and left to decay. Instead, it had been entirely relocated to its current location. The excavation results indicated that the occupants had dismantled the structures at the site and took all usable material with them, including logs and foundation stones. Evidence for this was found in the numerous tiny brick fragments and mortar smears identified at the site, with no larger pieces or complete bricks and stones present. Daub with wood grain impressions was recovered, but there was no indication of logs or boards of any kind left in place. The number of bent and broken nails was also much fewer than was to be expected had the building had been left to decay naturally. In addition, the mortar concentrations in the soil seemed to show the tracks of stones being pulled up and out of the ground. It appears that anything that could be reused at the new town site was taken.

The archaeological record found at the Beaver Creek Trail Crossing Site demonstrates that the idea of making do with what was available was a lesson learned by the inhabitants from years of living a self reliant lifestyle on the open plains.

About the Author –

Nolan Johnson is an archeologist at the Nebraska State Historical Society – State Archeology Office.

Interested in learning more about the Beaver Crossing Site or the archaeology of other Nebraska trails sites?

View a recorded presentation on the Archaeology of the Beaver Creek Trail Crossing Site by the author on YouTube!

Read the article “You Can Take It with You: Archaeology at the Beaver Creek Trail Crossing” as published in Nebraska Anthropology Vol. 21 (2006) – available for free via UNL Digital Commons.

Visit Rock Creek Station State Historic Park, another road ranch/trail site in Nebraska, featuring intact Oregon-California Trail Ruts and period buildings reconstructed based on excavations completed by NSHS archaeologists in 1980-81.

Check out the “Digging In: The Historic Trails of Nebraska” website, which highlights archaeological and historical research on Nebraska’s immigrant trails, produced by Dr. Paul Demers in conjunction with the UNL Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.


Archaeology at the Thomas P. Kennard State Historic Site

[The following blog post is the second in a series of posts highlighting archaeological sites that relate to Nebraska’s Statehood or date to the period around 1867! This series will run through September in celebration of Nebraska Archaeology Month and our state’s Sesquicentennial!]

Kennard - Lincoln 360

Thomas P. Kennard House seen from first Nebraska State Capitol Building (c. 1871) – note the rear wing. Nebraska State Historical Society, SFN5293.

In 1869, Nebraska’s first Secretary of State Thomas P. Kennard joined Governor David Butler and Auditor John Gillespie in constructing large personal residences in Lincoln. These impressive structures, designed by Chicago Architect John K. Winchell, were intended as a demonstration of confidence in the state’s new capital city, and to encourage others to invest in Lincoln. Located on the north half of Block 153 along H Street between 16th and 17th Streets, the Italianate style Kennard house is the only one of these structures that remains standing today. Believed to be the oldest house within the original plat of Lincoln, the house was designated as the Nebraska Statehood Memorial in 1968.

1968 Archeological Excavations

1968 Archaeological Excavation at the Kennard House – Ron Kivett at work. Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology 25LC15-13.

That same year, ahead of the official dedication open house on October 5, the Nebraska State Historical Society conducted some preliminary archaeological excavations in the backyard of the Kennard House to explore what remained of the original rear wing of the house, seen in early photos of the residence but demolished in 1923. The 5’x5’ test units, dug in advance of possible rear wing reconstruction, revealed an intact foundation along with architectural materials and household items such as medicine bottles and ceramics. Despite the findings, 25 years passed until further exploration of the rear wing and Kennard House back yard continued.

1968 Excavation - sewer pipe, foundation

1968 Excavation – Foundation (foreground) and 1888 Sewer Line (background). Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology 25LC15-49.

1968 Excavation - Foundation, Bottle

1968 Excavation – Foundation, Zehrung and Dunn Medicine Bottle (1880s). Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology 25LC15-31.

In 1992, renewed discussion of reconstruction led to additional archaeological investigations at the Kennard House. With the primary aim of identifying original construction materials and methods to guide future reconstruction efforts, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Anthropology Department held an archaeology field school at the site, led by Dr. Peter Bleed. The excavations also sought to uncover artifacts that could yield information on the lifestyle of the Kennard family and their servants, as well as subsequent occupants of the house, which went on to function as a boarding house, a fraternity house, and a single-family residence at various times.

1992 Excavation

1992 UNL Archaeology Field School Excavation – Dr. Peter Bleed (left). 25LC15 Site File.

Between May 18-July 9, 1992, a group of 17 undergraduate students and a number of volunteers excavated 82 square meters of the back and side yards of the Kennard House. The location of the units was based on remote sensing data produced by UNL physicist John Weymouth as a guide to possible buried features at the site. Structural remains uncovered during excavation include the foundation wall of the rear wing, a hand dug well, a cistern, a ‘Hooker and Orr’ plumbing feature (dating to July 1888), and a number of clay tile and ferrous metal pipes related to various plumbing episodes over the years.

kennard cistern

Cistern at Kennard House, 1992 Excavation. Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology, 25LC15 Site File.

In addition to the buried structural features found at the site, architectural remains such as portions of painted wall, window panes, hinges and other hardware, linoleum fragments, roofing materials, and light fixture components were recovered. These materials can be used to determine original design details of the Kennard House, as well as style changes made during more recent renovations. Although the plans for rear wing reconstruction never came to fruition, these details would prove invaluable in the event that reconstruction is ever again pursued.

As intended, the archaeological excavation also uncovered a large amount of household artifacts related to the residents of 1627 H Street. Information about food consumption (cut animal bones, food/beverage bottles), food preparation/service (platters, bowls, cups), health (medical and personal care bottles and jars), and recreation (toys) can all be gathered from the material culture identified from the Kennard House excavations. While a number of the best preserved artifacts appear to post-date the Kennard occupation of the house (1869-1887), many of these were likely deposited prior to or circa 1923, when the rear-wing was demolished during renovations. As a result, these materials still provide an important record of life in Lincoln at the turn of the nineteenth century. In addition, despite the later dates of materials in deposits held by features like the cistern, a portion of the collection does appear to date to the earlier occupation of the house by the Kennard Family, and could provide greater insight into the lifestyle of ‘the father of Lincoln’ and his family, with the completion of additional (and much-needed) analysis.

Today, the Kennard House interior is open by appointment, with features from the 1992 excavations marked in the backyard for visitors wishing to take a self-guided tour. Just as restoration of the house is a continuous process, so too is the archaeological investigation. While UNL students continued their experience into the fall of 1992 with artifact cleaning and processing in the lab, much of the analysis on these materials remains to be completed. In addition, with approximately only 25% of the site tested, other portions of the property may warrant future archaeological investigation, should the circumstances arise. For the time being, however, the site continues to be well-preserved under NSHS-ownership, faring better than much of the original plat of Lincoln, which has been paved over or built up in the 150 years since Nebraska became a state. This allows the archaeology of the Kennard House to remain safe underground, providing us a continued window into the past of the earliest days of Lincoln and Nebraska’s Statehood – a perspective only the archaeological record can provide.



Bleed, Peter and Stanley Parks. “A Preliminary Report on the 1992 Archeological Excavations at the Kennard House – the Nebraska Statehood Memorial 25LC15.” July 29, 1992.

Buecker, Thomas R. “The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard.” Nebraska History, Volume 95, Number 2 (pgs. 78-93), Summer 2014.

About the Author – 

Courtney Ziska is an archeologist at the Nebraska State Historical Society – State Archeology Office.

Interested in learning more about the Thomas P. Kennard Historic Site?

Attend the Archaeology Free Family Fun Day at the Kennard House on Saturday, September 9 from 1:00-3:00 p.m.! See artifacts from the 1992 excavation and learn more about what historical archaeology can tell us about our recent past, including Nebraska Statehood. Take a tour of the interior and play period games, celebrating the Sesquicentennial. Depending on current renovation work being completed at the house, visitors may also get to examine open archaeological excavations in the backyard for the first time in 25 years!

Take a tour of the Thomas P. Kennard State Historic Site, including the self-guided tour of the archaeological features exposed in the backyard. Visit for more information.

Share the ‘Teaching with Historic Places’ lesson plan on the Thomas P. Kennard House: Building a Prairie Capital with a teacher or a student you know, and help others learn about how Lincoln became the state capital and what it looked like in its earliest days!

Read “The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard” by Thomas R. Buecker, published in Nebraska History, Volume 95, Number 2 (Summer 2014)

The Bertrand – Nebraska on the Frontier of Shipwreck Archaeology

[The following blog post is the first of a series of posts highlighting archaeological sites that relate to Nebraska’s Statehood or date to the period around 1867! This series will run through September in celebration of Nebraska Archaeology Month and our state’s Sesquicentennial!]

Steamboat Bertrand Excavation

Bertrand excavation with two-thirds of the cargo removed. (Photo courtesy of Woodman of the World Magazine. Omaha, Nebraska.)

Terms like ‘shipwreck archaeology’ and ‘maritime preservation’ don’t often elicit thoughts of Nebraska.  But therein extend some of the deepest roots of maritime archaeology in the Americas—30 feet deep to be exact-—in a cornfield in the Desoto Wildlife Refuge, a mile or so from the present bed of the Missouri River.  In 1968, two salvors, Jesse Pursell and Sam Corbino used a magnetometer to find the wreck of the steamboat Bertrand.  The vessel had, 103 years earlier, hit a ‘snag’ (part of a sunken tree) and sank on April 1st, 1865—just a few days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Before sinking, Bertrand was run into the river’s bank, allowing most passengers to step off without getting their feet wet.  This was in sharp contrast to the horrific demise 26 days later, of Sultana, another river steamboat near Memphis. Sultana sank due a boiler explosion resulting in more fatalities than did RMS Titanic in 1912.


The Steamboat Bertrand’s intended destination was Deer Lodge, Montana. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

Traditionally, we refer to vessels made for riverways and the Great Lakes as ‘boats.’  Riverboats are built for shallow water navigation.  Their capacity tends to be concentrated above the water surface rather than in a deep hull.  They carried cargo and passengers equal to seagoing vessels, while maintaining a shallow draft.  The inherent problem with river travel is overcoming the current on the upstream leg of any two-way journey.  Before the steam engine, downriver travel was often on raft-like craft that could be recycled as cut timber at journey’s end.  The physics of steam expansion enabled huge pistons to churn paddlewheels against the current, propelling large vessels upstream.  The wheels could be mounted on each side of the hull or, like the Bertrand, a single large wheel at the stern.  This application of steam technology was particularly important to the nation’s eastern states rich in rivers where steamboats greatly accelerated the nation’s growth.

The remains of Bertrand were lost to memory after early salvage attempts but came back to public attention in the mid-20th Century when found again by Pursell and Corbino.  Rivers aren’t passive waterbodies; the Missouri reshaped itself during 103 intervening years, which explains the overlying cornfield and thirty feet of silt and gravel.  Philosophical questions regarding ownership of antiquities, our physical touchstones to the past, were also being redefined. The Antiquities Act of 1906 offered protection for them on federal lands; then a 1916 organic act created the National Park Service, now the nation’s lead agency in historic preservation.  Petsche cited compliance with the1935 Historic Sites Act’ in dealing with Bertrand.  But just two years before Bertrand’s discovery came the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act that created a National Register and State Historic Preservation Officers with significant authority over treatment of the past.

Aerial View of Bertrand Excavation

Aerial view of the Bertrand Excavation. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

Treasure hunters had already begun tearing up Spanish maritime heritage sites in offshore Florida.  But the salvage of antiquities from this wreck in Nebraska lacked the overtones of the grand hustle by salvors backed by slick magazines that became a decades long spectacle in Florida.  Bertrand salvors were also motivated by the potential of treasure, including mercury used for refining gold.  But they were apparently straightforward and open to cooperation with preservationists.  Law and policy was in this case clearly on the side of salvage.

The Nebraska State Historical Society represented the interests of citizens devoted to preserving remnants of local history and archaeology. The agreement reached by all the principles was that nothing of historical value was to be lost to the public.  Salvers could be reimbursed in a 60/40 % split by the government but no historic fabric forfeited.  The details of how this played out in the final analysis are not clear to me from Petsche’s book.

Bertrand Excavation

Bertrand Excavation. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

The conundrum presented by salvage to archaeology is understandable.  People are motivated to find lost things and hope to profit from them.  Federal agencies represent the public at large, and protect vestiges of the past for the public of the future. American archaeologists as represented by the Society for American Archaeology in 1968, considered themselves prehistorians. They were not adept at speaking out for historical shipwrecks nor post-Columbus sites in general. The Society for Historical Archaeology was created in 1967, the year before Bertrand was found.  It included an Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology. But if non-agency archaeologists were involved in advocating against disturbance it was not evident to me.

The Midwest Archaeological Center of the NPS in Lincoln was given archaeological control of the excavation of Bertrand but the principal investigator was an historical architect Jerome Petsche, from the NPS Washington Office.  Bertrand, over a hundred years old, was being excavated through GSA contract with the US Bureau of sport Fisheries a (predecessor of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). They followed no precedents for shipwreck excavation because, well, there weren’t any.  This is clearly not the way it would happen now.  The individuals involved were dealing with glitches in law and practice concerning the historical value of shipwrecks in the US—most of which were corrected by later legislation. It would be two decades before law caught up to this problem with the Abandoned Shipwreck Act.

Bertrand Excavation

Bertrand Excavation. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

There were no models for shipwreck excavation in the U.S. and the disastrous consequences of that reality were already unfolding a few hundred miles away.  Namely, with the Civil War gunboat Cairo on the Yazoo River near Vicksburg. Cairo was literally pulled apart by a combination of salvers and civil war historians before NPS was given control. This is a different but related story. Put aside for a moment any thoughts of ‘underwater archaeology’ as it  would be done today.  What was remarkable, in the case of Bertrand, was how expeditiously the problem was addressed without a specialized infrastructure to handle it.

Bertrand lay so far beneath the land surface that water flooded any newly opened cavity. To avoid flooding while heavy machinery, including bulldozers, removed soil overburden, a system of well points (more than 200) were drilled around the hull.  Water was sucked out and away before it hampered excavation.  As long as the well points kept pumping, you were more likely to be run over by an historical architect on a bulldozer than see an archaeologist swim by.  Petsche, under the archaeological oversight of Wil Husted and the Midwest Archeological Center, led the excavation and delivered a complete report in 1974.  It was all in keeping with the unfit mélange of inappropriate legislation they operated under.  But within that context the salvers acted lawfully and the professionals acted…professionally.

Removing Bertrand Cargo

Careful removal of Bertrand Cargo. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

The Bertrand excavation marked a turning point for archaeology in a maritime context.  The principal investigator was an historical architect working on a comparatively intact shipwreck, but he stayed in communication with competent land archaeologists at MWAC.  Petsche also acknowledged contacts given him by George Fischer, an NPS archaeologist then beginning to specialize in shipwreck work.  Petsche remarks that Fischer also “…spent several days with us in the mud and 100 degree temperatures…”

From my perspective a half century later, it seems Petsche understood how to care for historic fabric; was equipped to map historic structures; was motivated to study what he didn’t know and had the energy and savvy to put together a timely project and write a useful report. — The Steamboat Bertrand: History, Excavation and Architecture by Jerome E. Petsche has become a fundamental reference for all western riverboat investigations since.  Almost equally important, the Foreword and Preface of the Bertrand report were written by Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton and Director of the National Park Service, Ron Walker.  That is important.  Key figures in historic preservation on an international level wrote of the importance of a shipwreck lying in the muck-filled former channel of the Missouri river in Nebraska.

Archaeologists, including the author, are inclined to turn red at the thought of salvors and architects excavating shipwrecks.  Antiquities are usually not “saved” by an act of salvage.  That someone wants to salvage something it is not enough reason for a society to let them do so. Particularly since the public must care for it in perpetuity.  But how Nebraska and NPS and USFW dealt with it is not a simple issue.  It wouldn’t be done that way now, but—it wasn’t now, it was then—and the project’s results in that context, are hard to argue with.  And the story didn’t stop there. In June 2011, the Bertrand remains and exhibits, then residing in a US Fish and Wildlife visitor center, were threatened by a flooding event.  The USFW Service helped by many citizen volunteers, rolled up their sleeves and quickly packed and removed the salvaged cargo to safer quarters.

Cargo - Bottles

Intact bottles from the Bertrand Cargo. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

When excavated, shipwrecks like any material remains, never end up in truly stable environments—just different ones. Taking antiquities from a context in which they have reached a level of equilibrium, means they were taken someplace else judged temporarily secure—it’s always a gamble; consider the wealth of ruins and museums destroyed by Isis in Syria.  But history came alive to the USFW, NPS and citizen volunteers who moved the threatened Bertrand remains before the floodwaters arrived.  When the Nebraskan public buys into shipwreck archaeology with their sweat, it should be of note to agencies and archaeologists alike.

Cargo - Clothing

Example of the degree of preservation found at the Steamboat Bertrand site. (Photo Credit: United States Department of the Interior. Cecil W. Stoughton, 1969.)

About the Author –

Dan Lenihan was the founding chief of the NPS Submerged Resources Center (SRC).

He ran the National Reservoir Inundation from 1975 to 1980 and the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (SCRU) 1980 thru 1999.  When he retired, Larry Murphy became Chief and the name was changed to Submerged Resources Center (SRC).  Dan worked for SRC as a rehired annuitant off and on, from 1999 to 2009 on various projects.  He also published several books including Submerged (a popular book about the SRC) Underwater Wonders of the National Parks and co-authored three novels.

Interested in learning more about the Steamboat Bertrand?

Read The Steamboat Bertrand: History, Excavation, and Architecture by Jerome E. Petsche (as referenced above) at

View the collections uncovered during excavation at the Steamboat Bertrand museum located inside the visitor center at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. For more information, visit

Learn about the efforts undertaken by the Gerald. R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha to conserve the metal found during the Steamboat Bertrand excavations –

Peter Bleed Receives the William Duncan Strong Award

The Nebraska Association of Professional Archeologists is pleased to announce that Peter Bleed has been presented with the William Duncan Strong Memorial Award in honor of his significant contributions to Nebraska Archaeology. The Award was presented to Peter on October 13, 2016 at the joint UNL Anthropology Reunion/Thursday Night Reception of the 74th Plains Anthropological Conference in Lincoln, NE.


Peter on his way to the State Legislature

From the award nomination:
“Shortly after earning his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Peter Bleed landed in Lincoln, Nebraska 44 years ago (1972) and Nebraska archaeology has been the better for it ever since!

Peter came to us as a University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Anthropology faculty member where he has remained for his entire professional life. During his tenure at UNL, Peter served in many roles, including Anthropology Department Chair, President of the Academic Senate, and Associate Dean. Perhaps his greatest role, however, was that as a professor and mentor to hundreds of students, including sitting on over 70 thesis committees (and chairing about half of these). His presence in the classroom covered a wide array of topics but he is particularly noted for teaching primitive technology and lithics, museum studies, Old World prehistory, and many archaeological summer field schools. Over four decades, Peter’s scholarly interests covered a broad range of important topics and he authored or co-authored over 80 books and journal articles in addition to countless technical reports. A short-list of his research interests include: battlefield archaeology, Japanese prehistory and material culture, chipped stone tool technology, theory in archaeology, and Great Plains prehistoric and historic material culture and architecture.


Primitive Technology Course at UNL

Beyond his professional service in academia, this nomination for the Strong Award focuses on Peter’s emphasis on engagement and advocacy, with a deep passion for bringing archaeology to the public. As a founding member and former president (1992-94, 2010-12) of the Nebraska Association of Professional Archeologists (NAPA), Peter worked to make archaeological learning opportunities accessible to all ages, while continuously advocating on behalf of Nebraska’s cultural resources to the State Legislature. In this manner, he was instrumental in drafting and seeing into law the Nebraska Archeological Resources Preservation Act – a measure which created the State Archeology Office. His enthusiasm for promoting and preserving our state’s history continued through his role as a Nebraska State Historical Society Trustee for many years, including president from 2006-07, and also his service on the NSHS Historic Preservation Board from 1989-2002 and again in 2007.

On a local level, his dedication to cultural resources continued as a longtime board member for the Preservation Association of Lincoln (PAL), where Peter aimed to share his enthusiasm of our capital city’s rich past with all its residents, while working to hold city and University decision makers accountable for their responsibility in regards to our archaeological and architectural resources. His perseverance in advocacy efforts will certainly not be soon forgotten by any of those he had a chance to interact with.


During the 2012 UNL Field School in Archaeology

Throughout all these roles and into retirement, Peter has worked consistently and tirelessly to make archaeology relevant to the public. He is passionate about telling the world that our heritage is what defines us and understanding the past through places and things makes for a richer present and future. There are a lot of archaeologists in Lincoln but Peter above all others is a model for carrying that message whether it be in the classroom, at artifact shows, in the chambers of the legislature, or digging holes in the alleys and backyards of Lincoln. The archaeological community in Nebraska will feel the void left by Peter as he begins his new adventures in Arkansas, but Little Rock is more fortunate to have him than they can possibly realize.”

-Submitted by Rob Bozell and Courtney Ziska, Nebraska State Historical Society

On behalf of NAPA, thank you Peter for everything you have contributed in furthering Nebraska Archaeology and outreach/education efforts! We look forward to hearing about your Arkansas Adventures!


Behind the 2016 Poster – Signal Butte

Signal Butte cropped

The 2016 Nebraska Archaeology Month Poster commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which was signed into law on October 15, 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The NHPA established the legal framework and incentives to preserve historic buildings, landscapes, and archaeology all around Nebraska and the nation. The ongoing programs and protections established by the Act include the National Register of Historic Places, the Section 106 Review Process, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Historic Preservation Fund.

Of the programs established by the Act, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the perhaps best known. In an effort to recognize the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, this official list was authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act on October 15, 1966. The first properties listed on the NRHP included all previously designated National Historic Landmarks, including several of Nebraska’s most noteworthy archaeological sites. In order to highlight Nebraska Archaeology while making a connection to the NHPA, it was decided that one of these sites would become the focus of the 2016 poster. After going through photo collections housed at the Nebraska State Historical Society, a 1932 photo taken of Signal Butte by Clarence Lorenzo Dow, then a geography student at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, was chosen to become the image for Nebraska Archaeology Month 2016.


South side of Signal Butte [Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology 25SF1-51]. Photo by C.L. Dow.

Located in Scotts Bluff County, Signal Butte has been considered to be one of Nebraska’s most important archaeological sites, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark on January 20, 1961. Capped with a thick mantle of gravel and windblown soil, three distinct cultural horizons were found to be located on the butte, with the two deepest levels dating between 5,000 and 1,500 years ago. Initial excavations at Signal Butte took place in 1931-1932 by William Duncan Strong (Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology) along with an University of Nebraska Archeological Survey field party led by Waldo R. Wedel. The original photo taken by Dow shows 1932 field crew working on top of the butte, with their vehicles below. Archaeologists, including Wesley L. Bliss and John L. Champe, returned to the butte in the late 1940s and 1950s in order to further investigate the site’s nature and stratigraphy. It was determined to have likely served as a seasonal hunting camp for its inhabitants as well as a processing area. The site is also notable in the history of archaeology itself, having been one of the first sites to be dated using the radiocarbon method.

Besides being an incredible archaeological site, Signal Butte also has special ties to the Nebraska Association of Professional Archaeologists (NAPA), being the image found on the William Duncan Strong Award plaques as well as having been the subject of the Association’s first logo!

Original NAPA Logo

Designed by Courtney Ziska and Robert Cope, the style of this year’s poster was inspired by the logos created by Preservation50 in commemoration of the NHPA ( The poster was first unveiled during the Governor Proclamation Signing Ceremony on August 10th, 2016. These posters will be sent out to participating Nebraska museums and libraries, as well as to NAPA members and handed out at Archaeology Month events. If you are unable to attend an event to pick up a poster, they are also available upon request (email for more information!)



1966       National Register of Historic Places, Signal Butte (25SF1), Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. National Register #66000452.

2000       High Plains Archaeology. Explore Nebraska Archaeology, No. 5. Nebraska State Historical Society. []

Rock Creek Station Survey


Beginning of archeological survey near park entrance.

Recently, Nebraska State Historical Society archeologists worked with the Nebraska Game and Parks (NGPC) to conduct a pedestrian survey at Rock Creek Station, a stage and Pony Express station established in 1857 near present day Fairbury, Nebraska. In 1980, the NGPC developed the site into a state historical park, encompassing the locations of the road ranches that sold supplies and other services to emigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, as well as a segment of Oregon and California Trail ruts. Archeological excavations conducted at the time the park was established provided information that allowed for accurate reconstruction of many of the stations’ structures. These reconstructed buildings along with artifacts discovered during the 1980-1981 excavations remain on display at the park.


Survey crew member Jason Tonsfeldt (NGPC) examining a reconstructed East Ranch building.

Upcoming plans for a prescribed burn prompted the current archeological survey of the park’s 350 acres. The burn, part of an oak woodland restoration project and intended to help control the spread of invasive plants, is not expected to affect known archeological sites at the park. However, the proposed burn provided a good opportunity to conduct an inventory of archeological resources at the park, both through a pre-burn survey with the existing vegetation, as well as a survey following the prescribed fires. This post-burn survey, planned for late-April, is expected to take advantage of the greater visibility afforded by the fires via the removal of vegetation, possibly revealing additional unrecorded archeological features and sites.

Data gathered during these inventory surveys will help NGPC staff plan future activities within the park in a way that ensures important archeological sites are not damaged by continued development. The data from these surveys also contributes to a more robust interpretation of Nebraska history within the park boundaries, as well as a greater understanding of past occupations in the state as a whole. To date, the survey has led to the discovery of several previously unknown sites, both prehistoric and historic, as well as the recordation of graves located on the property. To get a closer look at the pre-burn archeological survey, be sure to scroll through the photos below!

For more information on visiting Rock Creek Station, or to learn more about its history and past archeological investigations at the park, visit or check out the following:

Carlson, Gayle F.

1980       A Preliminary Report on the Results of the 1980 Archeological Investigations at Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, Nebraska. Nebraska State Historical Society.

1982       The 1981 Archeological Investigations at Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, Nebraska: A Preliminary Report on the Results of the Second Season of Excavations. Nebraska State Historical Society.


NSHS Archeologist Rob Bozell and Game and Parks staff Jim Domeier and Bob Hanover discuss finds along the creek, including bison remains and clay drain tile fragments.


Rock Creek Station Superintendent Jeff Bargar (center) points out various park features while surveying near the trail ruts.


Bargar, Domeier, and Bozell survey near the reconstructed West Ranch.


Survey crew members mark down possible cultural cultural features, including depressions and a possible washed-out dugout after emerging from the timber near the East Ranch (pictured left to right: Bob Hanover, Jim Domeier, Rick Bell, Rob Bozell, and Jeff Bargar).


Crew surveys near the southeastern edge of the park.

IMGP0636 - 354

Crew shot from Rock Creek with West Ranch in background. From left: Nic Fogerty (NSHS), Rick Bell (NGPC), Jeff Bargar (NGPC), Katie Paitz (NSHS), and Nikki Krause (NGPC). Bob Hanover and Jason Tonsfeldt (NGPC) in background.

IMGP0637 - 360

View from East Ranch to West Ranch.


Crew surveying rock face for cultural features (petroglyphs).


Most inscriptions consist of 20th century graffiti (as pictured), but some of the observed carvings may be attributed to older groups.


Survey along Rock Creek.

Photos courtesy of Katie Paitz and Rob Bozell (NSHS).

5050 Building Tour – Home of the NSHS Archeology Division

One of the big headlines of Nebraska Archeology in 2015 was the relocation of the Archeology Offices and Collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society to a newly constructed facility in North Lincoln. This building, known as the ‘5050 Building’ because of its address at 5050 N. 32nd Street, is located approximately 5 minutes south of Interstate 80.


Exterior of the 5050 Building (NSHS Archeology and Archives)

As those familiar with the NSHS Archeology Division know, staff offices and lab space have been found at a several locations in recent years, including the 3rd floor of the Lincoln’s Children Museum, the 3rd floor of the Nebraska History Museum, and most recently near S. 14th and Old Cheney in a temporary space, as they awaited the completion of this newest facility. In addition, collections had previously been housed in a less than optimal environment not suitable for long-term storage. The new 5050 Building addresses these issues, providing permanent offices for staff, ample lab space, and modern collection storage facilities complete with compact storage shelving. The new building also includes a large collection storage space for the NSHS Government Records, which will be relocated from the K Street facility in Lincoln later this year, along with the office of the State Archivist.

The 5050 Building is open during regular state office hours. However, the doors remain locked throughout the week, so visits are best coordinated with Division Staff. Students and professional archeologists who would like to access divisional records and collections in the course of cultural resource management or scholarly research should contact Trisha Nelson at For more information, visit!

Archeology Offices and Records


Entrance (with a nice display of available Central Plains Archaeology Journals!)

Conference Room

Conference Room


Staff Office


Library of Nebraska Archeology and History Resources

Archeological Site Form Alley

Nebraska Archeological Site Files

Volunteer or Intern Offices

Office Space for Volunteers and Interns

GIS Station

GIS and Research Station

Archeology Lab

Lab Overview

Overview of Lab

Comparative Collection

Comparative Fauna Collection

Flotation sink

Flotation Station

Loading Dock and Field Equipment Storage

Equipment Storage

Field Equipment Storage

Collections Storage


Compact Storage

Collections with Nolan

Row of Collections Storage (NAPA Secretary and Treasurer, Nolan Johnson, in background for scale)

Collections Space to Grow

Room for Future Growth

Archives Collections beyond

End of Archeology Collections, Beginning of Government Records