Iowa State Archaeologist Dr. John Doershuk believes the positive impact that could be created by the completion of the Loess Hills Archaeological Interpretive Center would be felt well beyond the immediate Glenwood area.
The $6 - $7 million facility being proposed on a 907-acre state preserve just south of the city limits would serve as an educational center for the study of the Glenwood Culture, the name designated to Native Americans of the Nebraska Phase of the Central Plains tradition that occupied southwest Iowa 600 - 900 years ago. The Central Plains tradition is an archaeological reference to similar sites dating back from about 900-1300 that have been identified in northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri, eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa.
“Glenwood archaeology has always been a hot spot in the state. There are some special kind of resources here that don’t exist anywhere else in the state of Iowa,” Doershuk said during an interview with The Opinion-Tribune. “To have an interpretive center focusing here on those resources is unique within the state for research opportunities and for public engagement opportunities to get people to understand the value of the past and how it ties in to what we do now.”
Hundreds of Glenwood Culture earth lodge sites have been identified in the Loess Hills region and along the Missouri River valley in western Iowa. The highest concentration of those sites are located in Mills County within 10 miles of the mouth of the Platte River and along Keg Creek.
Doershuk said similar Nebraska Phase sites are more abundant but less concentrated in Kansas and Nebraska.
“The kind of resources that occur here (Glenwood) in a high density make it special,” he said. “You don’t have to go 20 miles from here and they don’t occur any more, so that’s kind of neat.
“If you go over to the Nebraska side, they say, ‘We have a lot of these, what’s the big deal?’ But for Iowa, it is very special. I always get rankled a little bit at the Nebraska Phase as it’s called because it was first discovered and documented in Nebraska. I wish we could have the Iowa Phase, but we have what we call the Glenwood Culture, so that works for us.”
Doershuk came to Glenwood Jan. 24 to speak at a meeting of the Loess Hills Archaeological Interpretive Center Board of Directors and supporters of the project.
“My primary task is to tell them something they’re already aware of, that this is a special place archaeologically – that it’s a value, it’s a significance,” Doershuk said. “I also want to reinforce that the steps they’ve taken toward an interpretive center are the right ones.”
Doershuk said the interpretive center would be more than a museum or just a building housing artifacts.
“To have something out here on essentially the west coast of Iowa that potentially could not just serve as a place to show artifacts, but actually a place to stay and research from, whether it’s locally or just generally in the western part of Iowa, would be a boon,” he said. “We’re hoping the ultimate design can accommodate that – some storage area for equipment, some people space, office-wise, maybe some artifact processing kinds of set-ups. It could be an actual resource center as well as a place where people could learn.”
Plans call for the interpretive center to serve as an educational facility for visitors of all ages and as a research venue for archaeologists and college students. The preserve that would house the facility is known to have over 100 archaeologically significant sites under its surface.
Management of the preserve has been turned over to the Mills County Conservation Board, which would provide nature hikes and educational presentations about the Loess Hills to interpretive center visitors.
The facility could also host special events, such as archaeology camps, conferences and meetings.
The interpretive center board’s primary focus at this time is securing a commitment for the needed funding through grants and private donations.