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Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Missouri Tradition in Iowa Multiple Property Submission (MPS)


[Photo] Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Mssouri Tradition in Iowa, MPS
Image from nomination
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office

In honor of Archeology Month, August 2010, the National Register of Historic Places focuses on archeological sites recently listed in the National Register.  The history and precontact history of the United States is rich in the material culture and physical remains of past human societies stretching from the Paleo-Indian of the Pleistocene to the recent past. The Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Missouri Tradition in Iowa Multiple Property Submission (MPS) presents a fascinating study of the culture and history of the American Indians who dwelt in northwest Iowa from A.D. 1100-1250.  A Multiple Property Submission is the format through which historic properties related by theme, general geographical area, and period of time may be documented as a group and listed in the National Register. Within the submission, the individual site of Kimball Village is explored in greater depth.


Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Mssouri Tradition in Iowa, MPS
Image from nomination
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office


Who were the peoples of the Middle Missouri Tradition (MMT)? American Indians lived at least a millennium ago on the Prairie-Plains along the Missouri River. Their culture was based on self-sustaining, compact, sedentary villages and a tribal society that successfully persisted for over eight centuries. Sites in Iowa that are important for their contribution to the historical human occupation of this period and location date roughly from A.D. 1100-1250. The MMT refers to the village-based farming communities living in the Missouri River drainage, roughly in the period AD 1000-1500.(1) MMT peoples domesticated the landscape and used earthlodges as a metaphor of life and the cosmos.  Big Sioux and Little Sioux phase sites (named after the Big Sioux and Little Sioux rivers, respectively) of northwest Iowa, known collectively by archeologists as the Mill Creek Culture, demonstrate the actual origins and initial development of the MMT of the Plains Village pattern. The archeological term “phase” in North American archeology refers to the common incidence of a number of components at sites within a defined geographic area and specific time period.(2)


[Photo]Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Mssouri Tradition in Iowa, MPS
Image from nomination
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office

What do we know about them through archeology and other lines of evidence? Most researchers agree that the origin of the Middle Missouri Tradition lies in the joining and transformation of loosely gathered farming communities into fortified communities like the Big and Little Sioux phase villages. They lived in compact villages with houses arranged in rows and subsisted on bison hunting and horticulture.  Village fortifications at some sites consist of ditches and wooden post palisade defenses, replaced in later villages by fortifications with bastions.  Big Sioux phase sites have produced enormous quantities of largely grit-tempered pottery, ground and chipped stone tools, chipped stone flaking debris, fire-cracked rock, and items of personal adornment.  Knives and pipes have also been found, and in some instances cemeteries were discovered within the villages.   MMT people had wide-ranging contacts beyond their northwest Iowa communities---ceramic evidence alone shows interaction with people in eastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin.
What became of them? Recent research in North and South Dakota confirms that later Middle Missouri populations are protohistoric ancestral communities of the Siouan-speaking Mandan and some Hidatsa peoples. The abandonment of the Big Sioux locality in northwest Iowa was apparently underway by A.D. 1250.  Where and why they left is unknown to archeologists; some suggest a relationship between them and the population at Crow Creek in South Dakota, or sites on the Heart River, North Dakota. The Central Plains peoples invaded the region about 1500 A.D. and a cultural blending with the Middle Missouri Tradition seems to have taken place.  The resulting culture, which may have blended with the Big Sioux and Little Sioux peoples, continued the use of horticulture, shifted to circular earthlodges and created a distinctive and new pottery tradition.(3)
--Above extracted from the National Register MPS Form prepared by Cynthia L. Peterson, Melody K. Pope, Michael J. Perry, John G. Hedden, James L. Theler/archeologists, and Mary J. Adair/paleoethnobotanist, Office of the State Archeologist, University of Iowa


1. Ibid p.279-280

2. Darvill, Thomas, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archeology, Second Edition, 2008, Oxford University Press, New York, p.343

3. Smith, Carlyle S. Time Perspective within the Coalescent Tradition in South Dakota. American Antiquity, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Apr., 1963), p. 489, Society for American Archaeology

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