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The Pamida Burial Salvage Project Site          
Site Number(s):   21BL  
County:   Beltrami, MN  
City Township:   Bemidji  
Image Archive:    (big thumbnails)     (medium)     (small)       


For thousands of years, people have been living in and traveling through the Minnesota region leaving evidence of their presence. Many times discovery of past human presence is made accidentally during construction activities, however, even in salvage situations archaeological methods are still essential to the recovery of the artifacts and the interpretations of the past. For example, the 1988 Pamida salvage project in Bemidji yielded an unusually high density of artifacts that tells the story of human occupation over 7000 years.

Construction and development projects impact both the natural and the cultural landscapes. Unfortunately, the remains of American Indian people are often unearthed during construction excavation. Federal and State laws, including the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 and Minnesota's 1978 Private Cemeteries Act, have been enacted to protect cemeteries and isolated burials. These laws require that burials are identified and efforts are made to avoid negative effects to them prior to the initiation of any activities that could result in their disturbance or destruction. Aside from legal obligations, the disturbance of American Indian cemeteries is of concern to both city and local American Indian communities and governments.

 
 



Economic development has resulted in varying levels of disturbance to buried evidence of the past, ancient as well as more recent. In 1988, excavations for the footings of an addition of the Pamida building in Bemidji disturbed the remains of numerous individuals, along with thousands of Native American artifacts.


The development of the city of Bemidji has altered landscape to a considerable extent.
The development of the city of Bemidji has altered landscape to a considerable extent.

 
 



The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC), working with the State Archaeologist's Office (OSA), undertook an effort to rescue the remains, which were resting in backfill piles, and to rebury them in place. See: Doing Archaeology in Minnesota - Laws


Rescuing the Cultural Properties


Eighteen crew and supervisors screened 225 cubic yards of disturbed soil to recover the skeletal remains. Screen of 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch mesh was used to sift the backfill and collect artifacts. Crew members, who were primarily from the Leech Lake Reservation Heritage Sites Program, sorted bone, ceramics, and lithic material as they screened the dirt.

 
 



Early Woodland Projectile Points
Early Woodland projectile points recovered at Pamida.



Human remains were identified on-site by investigators from the Hamline University Osteology Laboratory, Bemidji State University, and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. These remains were immediately reburied.

 
 



More than 12,000 artifacts were also recovered from the screening during the salvage project. Direct association of artifacts with the burials could not be demonstrated due to the amount of disturbed soil from the construction. Acknowledging American Indian beliefs, the cooperating agencies reburied those artifacts which clearly were of spiritual significance, along with a symbolic representation of the other types of artifacts.


Brainerd ceramics
Brainerd horizontally corded ceramics recovered at Pamida.
 
 




Analyzing the Remains and Artifacts


On-site osteological identification indicated all age groups were represented by skeletal remains, with an unusually large number of individuals in the 18-25 age group. These were robust, healthy people who likely lived rigorous lifestyles. Only one example of arthritis and one example of other disease was noted. There was no evidence of tooth decay.

Of the 10,130 ceramic sherds recovered, 8,873 were from the undecorated body of vessels, 704 were rim sherds, and 553 were other sherds that were decorated. These represent parts of 625 to 650 different vessels. This was an unusually high density of artifacts for any Minnesota site. Averaged over the area disturbed, the density would be approximately 78 sherds or five vessels per square meter.

 
 



Late Paleo-Indian projectile point of the Scottsbluff type from the Pamida site.
Late Paleo-Indian projectile point of the Scottsbluff type from the Pamida site.


Time periods represented by the artifacts included Paleo-Indian, Early Woodland, and Late Woodland. Screening of the fill yielded one projectile point characteristic of the Paleo-Indian tradition (which lasted from about 12,000 to 7,800 years ago). This point is typical of the kind made by people during the later part of that period.

 
 



The Early/Middle Woodland tradition, ca. 3,800 to 500 years ago, was represented by a variety of ceramic styles and projectile points. This tradition is generally marked by the introduction of burial mound construction and pottery making. See: Time Line of Cultures The ceramics associated with this period included Brainerd ware, Laurel ware, St. Croix, and Blackduck, and all were found at the Pamida site:

 
 



Brainerd net impressed ceramics.
Brainerd net impressed ceramics.

Laurel ceramics.
Laurel ceramics.
 
 



St. Croix ceramics.
St. Croix ceramics.


Blackduck ceramics.
Blackduck ceramics.

 
 



The Late Woodland Tradition is marked mainly by stylistic changes in ceramics, as well as by changes in projectile points. Two major pottery types from this period were recovered from the Pamida site. They were Sandy Lake, associated with what has been called the "Psinomani" culture, and Oneota, which has similarities to the Mississippian tradition. [Link to Oneota]

 
 



Cord/fabric marked Sandy Lake ceramics.
Cord/fabric marked Sandy Lake ceramics.


Oneota-related ceramics from Pamida.
Oneota-related ceramics from Pamida.

 
 



Lithic analysis confirmed the presence of Swan River chert, Tongue River silica, and quartz in the Pamida site collection. There are also moderate amounts of Knife River flint, rhyolite, and Red River chert along with smaller amounts of a variety of other materials. Maynes Creek Speckled Chert from southeastern Iowa is also present.

 
 



Early Terminal Woodland projectile points recovered at Pamida.
Early Terminal Woodland projectile points recovered at Pamida.


Late Woodland projectile points from Pamida.
Late Woodland projectile points from Pamida.

 
 



Unnotched triangular projectile points, characteristic of the Late Woodland period, were also recovered at Pamida.


Conclussions


This important multicomponent site, inadvertently uncovered by construction activities, yielded an unusually high density of artifacts that tells the story of human occupation over 7000 years. The discovery of human remains raised ethical issues and resulted in shared decision-making. The co-operative handling of the Pamida burial salvage project showed that these critical issues can be resolved in ways that support archaeological investigations while at the same time respect the traditions of peoples who have occupied the region for thousands of years.

 
 
 


 

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Updated 31 Aug 1999