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UA Researcher Finds Vast American Indian Settlement
Mon, Oct 28, 2002
Traditional View Of Plains Civilization, Warfare Altered By Discovery
By Allison Hogge
Special To The Morning News/NWAonline.net
FAYETTEVILLE -- Using geophysical technologies to view features buried beneath
the soil, a University of Arkansas archaeologist has mapped an American Indian
settlement that challenges the current understanding of Great Plains
For two weeks this past summer, Ken Kvamme, associate professor of
anthropology, applied ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity and
magnetometry readings to the Double Ditch State Historic Site in North Dakota
-- long believed to be the location of an 18th-century Mandan village.
What Kvamme found beneath the soil not only pushed the date of the village
three centuries, it also extended the boundaries of the site to reveal one of
the largest native settlements west of the Mississippi River.
It also suggested forms of defensive warfare never before associated with
Kvamme presented his findings last week at the Plains Anthropological Society
meeting in Oklahoma City.
"Double Ditch is a fairly shallow site, so close to the surface that you can
actually see some of the house depressions where the Mandan earth lodges sat
and the line of the two fortification ditches that surrounded the village,"
"But what we found with the geophysical instruments were two completely hidden
fortification ditches way out beyond the original two. It nearly doubles the
size of the village."
Built as a defensive measure against invaders, the fortification ditches
originally would have been 1 to 2.5 meters deep and nearly 2 meters wide, with
a palisade constructed on the inside edge.
According to Kvamme, the newly discovered ditches enclose an area of about 7.5
hectares, representing a substantial engineering feat.
"We know of ongoing hostility between the Mandan and the Sioux or Dakota in
historic times, but to consider the tremendous amount of energy it would have
taken to dig these fortifications around such a large area -- it clearly tells
us these people lived in fear during the prehistoric era," he said.
What Kvamme considers most curious about the new fortification ditches -- and
what he expects to cause a stir among his colleagues -- is not just the area
Rather, it's the placement of the ditches in relation to various midden mounds
along the periphery of the site.
His geophysical maps reveal that the ditches follow the line of the middens
around the village, suggesting that these earth-covered mounds of refuse may
have played a role in the ancestral Mandans' defensive tactics.
"The mounds could have been used as observation platforms, but the steep sides
along the fortification ditch suggest that they may have served as something
like ramparts," Kvamme explained.
"Use of ramparts is totally unknown in Great Plains prehistory. They're
considered a European innovation in this region."
If Kvamme's theory proves correct, the midden mounds at Double Ditch may
constitute the first evidence of ramparts in Great Plains warfare -- a
significant innovation, considering that the form of those middens suggest
predate European contact with the New World.
With the help of archaeologist Stanley Ahler of the Paleo Cultural Research
Group, Kvamme has collected significant evidence that the village at Double
Ditch may date back as early as the 1400s. After Kvamme mapped the new
fortification ditches with electrical resistivity and magnetometry, Ahler's
team excavated portions of the site.
They found potsherds, characteristic of 15th-century pottery, in the outermost
Furthermore, in surveying a greater area of the site, Kvamme's maps revealed
bastions along the exterior ditch -- a common defense feature employed by
prehistoric occupants of the 1400s.
His readings also showed the outline of rectangular houses mixed among the
circular earth lodges. It is believed that the ancestral Mandan typically
rectangular lodges in the 15th century, switching to the circular shape later
Kvamme and Ahler intend to perform radiocarbon dating to provide a more exact
time frame for the village.
Considering the size of the site, the number of houses and food storage pits
contained and the chronology of the village, a new picture of Double Ditch has
emerged as a major North American settlement.
Although a detailed study has not yet been conducted, the site may have
supported as many as 3,000 people, with a record of continuous occupation
spanning three centuries, Kvamme conjectured.
"To say the least, it's uncommon for a Plains tribe to be settled in one area
for such a long time. Even before we found the outer ditches, Double Ditch was
one of the biggest Great Plains villages we knew about," he said.
Amidst all the speculation about the size of the village, its occupants and
their enemies, Kvamme states one thing for certain: "The site needs a new
With at least four defensive ditches now discovered, Double Ditch is something
of an understatement."
For more information about Kvamme's projects, visit his Web site at
To learn more about geophysical technologies and their use in the United
States, visit the North American Database of Archeological Geophysics at
cast.uark.edu/nadag/ -- a site designed and maintained by Kvamme
originally funded by the National Park Service.
posted by Ishgood at Native News Online
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