The trail of Winona history may have just gotten a thousand years longer. A recent examination suggests that a spearpoint or arrowhead discovered near the former county landfill may be one of the oldest ever found in Winona County. Flung by ancient hunters around the same time Stonehenge was being erected and the first pyramids were constructed in Egypt, the stone projectile could be up to 5,000 years old, according to experts.
Photo by Chris Rogers
While plowing and hoeing his family's farm in the early 1900s, Roy Haake picked out a handful of stone points, framed them, and never thought much of them until archaeologists told him one of the points might be the oldest ever found in Winona County.
A review conducted by the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center (MVAC) this fall reports that one of the stone weapons found is a Raddatz/Osceola point, a broad, curved blade that was made by late or middle Archaic Period hunters between 3000 B.C. to 1500 B.C. Stone points can be roughly dated by their style alone, because ancient peoples during different eras of American prehistory had distinctive ways of forming their tools. Archaic era people shaped the Raddatz/Osceola points from chert stone and strapped them to wooden shafts with U-shaped notches.
If the MVAC archaeologists are right — and the Minnesota state archaeologist has been sought to confirm their judgment — the point is one of the oldest ever found in Winona County. Depending on where it falls within the MVAC's estimated age range, the Raddatz point is either the oldest or second oldest point to be discovered in the county, according to the La Crosse researchers.
It is not unusual for modern plows to turn up the implements of preagricultural people, and before the place was a landfill, it was the Haake family farm. The Haakes collected a number of arrowheads during their field work in the early 20th century. "Back then everything was horses — no electricity, no tractors — and you walked behind the plow and you did a lot of hoeing in the corn, so you actually knew what the soil was like," explained Iris Haake, describing how her husband, Roy, would occasionally find the stone implements among the crops. For years, the Haakes thought little of the points, until county staff promoting a park plan on the property encouraged the Haakes to submit photos of the ancient tools to the MVAC. The Haakes said they had the points framed so they would not lose them in a drawer. They never imagined they were particularly important. "My word, it was just unbelievable," Iris commented, describing her reaction to the news.
The other handful of points, stone knives, and hammerstones Roy Haake found are younger, Woodland Period (500 B.C. - 1200 A.D.) tools. Woodland relics are far more common, found on 26 sites in Winona County alone.
Archaic era relics are somewhat rare. "The Archaic Period is the longest lasting prehistoric period, but in many ways it is the poorest known," wrote Minnesota State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson, explaining the potential significance of the find he is still verifying. "Thousands of Archaic points have no doubt been found in Southeastern Minnesota by private collectors, but very few have been recovered by archaeologists in controlled excavations."
Archaic era people lived in a time of shifting climates, after the last glaciers retreated and smaller, modern game replaced the giant Ice Age mammals. They were hunter-gatherers who travelled in bands of 20 or 30. They chased deer and other game with stone spears, and sometimes flung the spears using levers called atlatls. They traded over long distances and were the first people to make tools from copper, according to the MVAC.
There are no plans for an archaeological exploration of the former landfill site, and the Haakes' find does not necessarily mean that Stone Point is home to more, significant artifacts. Archaeologists "don't know for sure if that was just a nomadic group that happened to drop a couple things" as they were walking or if the old Haake farm was a regular haunt for them, explained Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman. The Archaic people were nomadic hunter-gatherers who followed game. They were less far-ranging than their mammoth-chasing forebears and would sometimes return to the same camps, but did not form permanent villages, according to the MVAC. "The large majority of the landfill has been disturbed," Gilman pointed out, meaning that if there had been more artifacts at Stone Point, many of them may have already been disturbed.
"Projectile points are the most common artifact to be found without anything else as they can be the remains of a projectile a person shot or threw and then lost or they could have been embedded in an animal that carried it to that spot," Anfinson wrote when asked about the likelihood of more artifacts at Stone Point. "Most prehistoric villages and campsites are found near significant bodies of water, however, so this would indeed be a likely spot." Stone Point Park lies between West Burns Valley Creek and East Burns Valley Creek.
Before the Archaic era point was identified, a proposal to make a park out of the former landfill dubbed the place "Stone Point," for the Haake family's discoveries. The county is applying for grant funding for the park project. County leaders also recently suggested that the county study the possibility of operating a quarry at the site, a likely source of gravel and aggregate. Having its own source of rock could save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars on the many road projects it conducts each year, county officials estimate. Development at known archaeological sites is subject to state review. Disturbing burial grounds is forbidden, and excavation is sometimes required before development, Anfinson explained.