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Ancient earth lodge found at planned dam site 

Ancient earth lodge found at planned dam site 

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Wahoo Creek watershed

SITE MAP: A map of the Wahoo Creek watershed signifies 11 locations for dams. One of these locations has a depression that is a sign of a 600 to 1,000 year old earth lodge structure. For the protection of landowners and the site itself, the graphic does not designate which site has the depression. (Graphic courtesy of LPNNRD)

WAHOO – Having an over 600-year-old ancient earth lodge getting in the way of a future dam site happens very rarely in Melissa Baier’s job. 

The Natural Resources Conservation Science of Nebraska’s archaeologist said at the end of March NRCS confirmed a depression located at the site of one dam along the Wahoo Creek watershed. The dam is one of 11 the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District (LPNNRD) is working on.

The ancient earth lodge was announced during the LPNNRD Board of Directors meeting on April 12. 

The initial discussions for this project started back in the 1980s and a plan was completed by the late 1990s, LPNNRD General Manager Eric Gottschalk said. It sat on the shelf until 2018, in light of the flooding the district experience in the past few years, Gottschalk said. 

Gottschalk said the project will cost a total of $23 million for all 11 sites, but out-of-pocket cost for the district would be between about $3 and $5 million after state and federal funding. 

The LPNNRD has already received federal and state funding for the first three sites which will cost the district approximately $1 million of the total $4.1 million for these dam installations. 

Fortunately site 83, where the estimated depression estimated to be 600 to 1,000 years old is located, is one of the latter projects, so the district has time to make a decision on whether to still include this site in the plan or not. Baier said this structure likely stood before European settlers arrived in what is now America.

The depression was originally discovered back in the 1930s by Nebraska Historical Society Archaeologist Waldo Wedel along with a similar depression and several artifacts spread throughout the area. Wedel suspected that both depressions were ancient earth lodge structures. 

Baier said the NRCS was doing an archaeological cultural resources review for the watershed plan, but didn’t find anything in this particular cornfield and wooden area. She said it was assumed that the depressions were either not within the area they were surveying or could have been destroyed. 

Baier sent out letters to the state to find any ancestral ties in the area where site 83 is located and soon received maps and started looking into it more. After analyzing the maps, she started to think the likelihood of a depression at the site was high.

“I pulled up all these old maps are like LiDAR imagery of the area and there’s a thing that looks like it’s a depression and I wonder if that’s the site,” Baier said. 

Sure enough, they went out to the site and talked with the landowner only to learn that he had found a stone axe and an arrowhead over the years, and pottery from when he had gone digging with a buddy as a teenager. 

To protect the landowners and potential cultural resources at this site, the Wahoo Newspaper is not specifically listing the location of site 83.

LPNNRD and NRCS are working together to see if site 83 is something that can be avoided in construction, or if they need to remove it from the plan entirely. 

“The last thing we want to do is hold up the plan any longer than it is right now,” Gottschalk said. 

Because of the National Historic Preservation Act developed in the 1960s, NRCS is currently working to identify the site and its significance. Baier said they are working to find a way to preserve the depression as much as possible. However, the depression is located in an area that would be flooded and covered by the permanent pool created by the proposed dam. 

With that in mind, Baier is putting together a report with explanations from the state preservation officers and ancestral tribes and potential mitigation they can do to preserve the historical site. 

These preservation options will be presented to the board at the next LPNNRD board meeting on May 10. 

“If we can build the structure that we’d like and if we can design it and still maintain the integrity of those areas, then that’s of course something that we would do,” Gottschalk said. “Not only because we want to, but we’d be required to.”

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