Smithsonian Institution Logo Gavins Point Dam—Lewis & Clark Lake
Geology, Paleontology, Archeology, History
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The Inter-Agency Salvage investigations in the Lewis and Clark Lake Gavins Point Reservoir are part of a larger effort, coordinating federal, state, and local agencies in a history-making program of great national significance. Paleontological remains, archeological sites, historic places and historic buildings or monuments are as much a natural resource as our forests, our buried minerals, or our precious metals. What is even more important, they are heirlooms of the American past, unique documents of our national heritage, documents that, once destroyed, can never be replaced—and they are being destroyed, inevitably so, as we tame and develop the waterpower and irrigation resources of our river systems.

Rivers and their tributary streams often form deep channels, meandering and changing, cutting new courses and aggrading or abandoning the old. The exposure of deeply buried soils and rocks, and the creation of terrace systems often reveal the life-history of the river and the adjacent countryside, providing information on geology and documenting climatic changes that have occurred. River valleys were attractive to early Indian and White settlers alike. Here, Indians, pioneer farmers, fur traders, and soldiers found the needs of daily life—wood, water, game, and fertile soils—in abundance. In fact—and this is particularly true in the Missouri Basin—early settlement was often largely restricted to the terraces and flood plains of the streams.

With the construction of dams and canals, the improvement or stabilization of river channels, and other types of water-control projects, many of our stream valleys have been or are now being drastically altered. The purpose of the Inter-Agency Archeological Salvage Program is to salvage, to preserve, and to interpret the archeological, paleontological and historical remains that are threatened with destruction. This program serves the entire American people. It is a cooperative program, coordinating the knowledge, resources, and facilities of many agencies. Federal funds, appropriated for the purpose, provide much of the necessary money, but state, local, and even private sources are often called upon. Funds, however, are only part of the program. The actual field work and interpretation is done by scientific institutions staffed by trained specialists.

The Inter-Agency Archeological Salvage Program is nationwide in scope. The Gavins Point Dam and Reservoir fall within the Missouri Basin, the largest single geographical unit within the scope of the salvage effort. The Missouri Basin includes approximately one-sixth of the area of the United States, largely the region of the Central and Northern Plains. Ten states (Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana), wholly or in part, fall within its boundaries.

The Committee for the Recovery of Archaeological Remains, an independent organization composed of representatives of the Society for American Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association, and the American Council of Learned Societies, provided the basic ground work and has offered continuing guidance for the salvage effort. Realizing the great scientific importance of the work, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution have given effective cooperation. The results of this cooperation have been gratifying. In reality, the program has meant more than mere salvage. While archeological sites and places of historical importance have been destroyed by the construction of dams and reservoirs, the progress of scientific investigation has been vastly accelerated. Archeological research, in particular, has received a new and unique impetus. The construction of a series of dams on the mainstem of the Missouri by the Corps of Engineers has made possible a planned, integrated program of archeological excavations. This would never have been possible under other circumstances; no single institution could bear the burden alone. What is more, work that might have been done casually over a period of decades has been compressed into relatively few years. This has been particularly desirable, since it has allowed problems to be formulated and solutions sought in rapid succession, each reinforcing the next in a pyramid of progress. In this sense, the destruction of archeological sites has not been a disaster. On the contrary, it has made possible a unique, scientific effort aimed at the ultimate reconstruction of a portion of the American past.

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Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008