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Kimball Village, Iowa


[Photo] Kimball Village - property within the Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Missouri Tradition in Iowa MPS
Photograph by William Whittaker
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office

The Finding of an Archeological Treasure: In 1936, Iowa archeologist D. Charles R. Keyes first heard that artifact hunters were finding materials at a site that later became known as Kimball Village. He could not have foreseen the spectacular finds that would await his assistant, Ellison Orr, when three years later Orr and 14 Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers shoveled trenches into the 8-foot-thick cultural deposits, exposing houses, hearths, storage pits and burial features.  The range of artifacts, more than 9,000 in all, was astonishing: over 100 tools made from bone, including awls, squash knives, fishhooks, chisels, scoops, and matting needles, along with complete pottery vessels, and ceramic pottery handles fashioned into the shapes of animals.  Other uncovered items included tools made from stone, like hide scrapers, drills, knives, arrow points, whetstones, smoking pipes carved from pipestone, along with items of personal adornment, such as bone, shell and stone beads, bone pins, animal teeth used as beads, an ear spool, and mussel shells delicately carved into fish shapes or pendants. Later excavations by Orr in 1942 found the presence of human remains in four burial locations at the village, along with three houses spaced 12-feet apart from a central mound.  Future investigations at Kimball Village would uncover far more. 
The Fortified Village: Kimball Village in northwest Iowa is one of six known Big Sioux phase (A.D. 1100-1250) villages. It is the only one where houses have been fully explored through archeological excavation.   Big Sioux phase villages get their name from the Big Sioux River in Iowa. Kimball Village was occupied by the Big Sioux peoples, as evidenced by the artifact assemblage, radiocarbon dates, and the distinctive midden mound architecture (midden refers to any heap of rubbish or occupation debris adjacent to a dwelling). Village sizes range from 0.84 to 9.01 acres. At least six Little Sioux villages were fortified by a palisade and/or ditch, such as at Kimball with its possible ditch and timber palisade. A 2009 geophysical survey indicates south-facing houses arranged in five rows, with three to six houses per row. Excavations have identified three or possibly four houses but the survey indicates at least 17 more are present. The number of years the village was occupied is not known with certainty, although artifacts reveal there was a maximum occupation span of 150 years (A.D. 1100-1250).


Kimball Village - property within the Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Missouri Tradition in Iowa MPS
Image from nomination
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office


Later Excavations of Kimball Village: In 1963, a team from the University of Wisconsin, supervised by Walter Klippel, excavated three small test units which were used as part of a study assessing the link between climate and culture change at localized sites.  Considering that the ceramic assemblage was from the excavation of three 5-x-5-foot squares, the ceramic sherd (pieces of broken pot or ceramic vessels) count was astonishing in quantity: 1,602 body sherds, 740 rims, and 20 “other” items were found. A burial pit was discovered where a male, 25-32 years old, had been interred.  Found with the remains were limestone slabs and an ash-filled pipe, a bison scapula hoe, a bone chisel or wedge, a bison radius tool, and a possible fish lure made from a spindle-shaped bone fragment.
The most recent investigations were conducted in 2009 by the Iowa Office of the State Archeologist (OSA) and the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. The investigations were directly associated with efforts to assess site integrity for documenting and listing Kimball Village in the National Register of Historic Places. Led by Kenneth L. Kvamme, geophysical surveys were taken at Kimball Village in March 2009. Geophysical surveys are methods of understanding archeological sites without actually digging. Geophysical instruments detect buried features when the properties of a feature contrast with that of the surrounding soil. A host of anomalies were revealed at Kimball Village that represent a combination of precontact houses, hearths, pit features, burned areas, and perhaps midden deposits. Preliminary interpretation of the results indicates at least 20 house features within the site (including the three found by Orr), spaced in even rows. At the same time Kvamme was in the field, William Whittaker of the Office of the State Archeologist at the University of Iowa excavated 13 20-cm-diameter auger tests across the site in an effort to understand the depth of cultural deposits. Whittaker found that the site contained a 6.5-8.5-foot-thick midden deposit. Very little soil had been lost to erosion.  The site remains an extraordinarily well-preserved village that was occupied sometime between 750 and 900 years ago. 


[Photo] Kimball Village - property within the Archeological Resources of Initial Variant of the Middle Missouri Tradition in Iowa MPS
Photograph by William Whittaker
Ccourtesy of Iowa State Historic Preservation Office

The Importance of Kimball Village: The origin and development of fortified and permanent villages, the hallmark of the Middle Missouri Tradition itself, rested upon intensive maize production. Villages like Kimball, along with nearby communities of the American Indians of that time, and other features such as agricultural field systems, provide a view of a new, domesticated landscape previously unknown and unseen in the deep history of the Prairie-Plain.
Kimball Village remains in excellent condition. Because the site exhibits high historic and archeological integrity in location, setting, materials, workmanship, design, feeling and association, as well as being the earliest, best-preserved eastern Great Plains fortified village known in the United States, Kimball Village was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 11, 2010.  Kimball Village is nationally significant for the detailed scientific date and in-ground data it still contains in the area of Archeology, Native American Ethnic Heritage, and Community Planning and Development.
--Above extracted from the National Register Form prepared by Cynthia L. Peterson, Lynn M. Alex, and William E. Whittaker/ archeologists, Office of the State Archeologist, University of Iowa

Iowa State Historic Preservation Office

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