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The Silvernale Site         
Site Number(s):   21GD3, 21GD17  
County:   Goodhue, MN  
City Township:   Red Wing  
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The Silvernale site was once a large village surrounded by more than 225 mounds covering a large, low terrace adjacent to the Cannon River floodplain. The site is particularly important since it was the first of the sites in Red Wing where Mississippian-like characteristics were recognized.

 
 



Aerial of the Silvernale site in 1984
The Silvernale site in 1984.

The most common ceramic type recovered was unlike any other type found in Minnesota. It resembled pottery from the Mississippian cultures downriver. Because this ceramic type had not been seen here before, the Silvernale site became the type-site for the Silvernale Phase in Minnesota, dating between 1050 - 1300 CE.

 
 



The Silvernale site area, consisting of a large village and associated mound group, was first examined by T.H. Lewis in late August, 1885. Although Lewis conducted no excavations or investigation of the village area, he mapped a single large grouping of 226 mounds. He also estimated that at least 75 more mounds existed in an unexamined area, while a number were not mappable due to cultivation. An additional 91 mounds, previously mapped in other mound groups, were probably associated with the Silvernale site.

Map showing 1885 Lewis mounds
IMA recreation of the 1885 Lewis Silvernale map.

 
 


Formal excavations were conducted in 1947 and in the 1950s at the site by L. A. Wilford of the University of Minnesota, who worked in both the mound and village areas. Wilford noted that the artifact concentrations were generally low. Despite the small amount of material found, some tentative patterns were suggested.

 
 



Silvernale ceramics
Silvernale is the type site for the Mississippian pattern in Red Wing. UofM Wilford Archaeology Lab slide.


Wilford thought that some of the mounds had not been constructed at the same time as the village, but that most were the result of a continuous social group that lived at the site over a long period of time.

 
 



In the mid-1970s Red Wing, like many other cities, was expanding rapidly. The mounds and village at Silvernale had been mostly leveled by plowing and were not readily obvious. The construction of one of the factories in the Red Wing Industrial Park destroyed a very large portion of the site, as did other construction activity in the area.


Archaeology at the Silvernale site in 1973
Archaeology at the Silvernale site in 1973. Photo by Doug Birk.
 
 



Silvernale artifacts may represent a mixture of Mississippian-related and Oneota styles. This is especially apparent in the ceramics, which show an unusual blend of Oneota and Cahokia-inspired styles and forms.

The general character of artifacts at the Silvernale site suggests a blending of Mississippian-inspired and Oneota traits. This pattern is seen throughout the Red Wing villages. Mississippian traits include tri-notched projectile points, chunkey stones, and ceramic decoration styles. Oneota traits include the use of bone, tooth and antler tools, a high proportion of stone hide-scraping tools, and ceramic styles.

Although much of the site area was damaged during Red Wing expansion, local people and several archaeologists were able to salvage artifacts and information from the site before and during construction. However, only a tiny amount of material was collected compared to what was lost. The analysis is still incomplete, and this important site remains very poorly understood.



Map of Silvernale site.

It would seem that reconstructing any aspect of the Silvernale Site today would be impossible. However, recent advances in computer technology have aided archaeologists in recovering information from the Silvernale site.


Computer generated map
IMA computer generated map showing visible mound remnants with the 1885 Lewis map overlay.

The use of aerial photographs, ground-penetrating radar and other scientific techniques, in combination with Lewis' original maps of the area, has yielded a clearer idea of the original layout of the site, and has helped in management and planning.

 
 


 

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Updated 30 June 1999