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The Howard Lake and Anderson Sites         
Site Number(s):   21AN1, 21AN8  
County:   Anoka, MN  
City Township:   Columbus Twp.  
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In 1889 Theodore H. Lewis mapped a mound group on the northeastern shore of Howard Lake. The site lies atop a large knoll, probably once an island, in a marshy area that separates Howard and Mud lakes.

View at the Howard Lake site
Howard Lake is in eastern Anoka County just southwest of the town of Forest Lake. Rice Creek flows through the lake and its headwaters are located just to the east.


Howard Lake Map
Winchell map of the Howard Lake site.

Lewis recorded three large earthen mounds, of which two were oval-shaped and one was round. The largest measured 125 feet long, 90 feet wide at its base, and 19 feet high, making it one of the largest in the state. The site mapped by Lewis was later named the Howard Lake site and given the number 21AN0001.



In 1934 Albert Jenks and Lloyd Wilford of the University of Minnesota excavated a site on the southern end of Howard Lake in advance of road construction along what is now State Highway 23. They collected stone tools, copper implements, ceramic pieces, and two pipes, one carved from soapstone and the other made of clay.

Ceramic drawings from the Minnesota Archaeologis in 1943
Howard Lake pottery sherd drawings from the Minnesota Archaeologist, January 1943.


They also uncovered several fire hearths, which along with the artifacts suggested that the site had been a village. Because the ceramics resembled Hopewellian materials from Illinois, Wilford believed that the people who made them were of the Middle Woodland period. The site is now recorded as the A. H. Anderson site (21AN0008), named for the former property owner.


Ceramic rim sherds form the Howard Lake site
Howard Lake site ceramic rim sherds.

Howard Lake site projectile points
Projectile points from the Howard Lake site.


To determine if the Howard Lake site was related to the Anderson site, Wilford returned in 1950. He and his student crew excavated the smallest mound, where they found a number of burials but no artifacts with them. Scattered through the mound fill, however, were many ceramic sherds and several stone tools. The earth used to build the mound was probably gathered from an area where people lived and discarded refuse.


Howard Lake site projectile points
Projectile points from the Howard Lake site.

Scrapers from the Howard Lake Site
Scrapers from the Howard Lake site.

Pipestone from the Howard Lake site
Pipestone(catlinite) from the Howard Lake site.


From studying the ceramics, Wilford concluded that they were of the same type as those found at the Anderson site and confirmed his theory that both were similar to Hopewellian ceramics. As a result, Wilford defined the Howard Lake phase of Minnesota's Middle Woodland period and the Howard Lake ceramic type. Since then archaeologists have found Howard Lake ceramics at many other sites, but only within the Rice Creek drainage.


Archaeologists from the Minnesota Historical Society excavated another part of the Anderson site in 1976, when Highway 23 was widened, but the results of their work were never analyzed nor reported. Since then highway construction and housing development have largely destroyed the site.

Anderson Lake site
When archaeologists investigated the Anderson site in 1976, they found that artifact looters had dug at least one of the burial mounds.


Archaeologists revisted Howard Lake in 1977 during the Historical Society's statewide survey. They mapped three previously unidentified mounds and dug shovel tests in open areas around the mounds, discovering that part of the site had been a village.

Members of the survey team also identified several other sites containing Howard Lake ceramics on knolls overlooking Howard and Mud lakes. This provided even more evidence that the area was especially important for Middle Woodland peoples.



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Updated 27 Jun 1999