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Locals can help uncover history at Fort Robinson

September 17, 2018

CRAWFORD — Local residents will have the opportunity to dig up some history at Fort Robinson.

The Red Cloud Agency Community Dig aims to get the public involved to uncover history at a weekend community dig at the Red Cloud Agency at Fort Robinson. The site of the former agency, which served many Native Americans, is one of the most important historical sites in northwestern Nebraska.

Volunteer days have been done in the past where the public is invited to participate in a dig.

“Sandra (Reddish, historic sites coordinator) thought it would be good to do it again and Fort Robinson would be a good place to do it,” said Rob Bozell, associate director for History Nebraska Archeology Division. “We’ve never done one this far out west.”

History Nebraska is trying to do more outreach and get people involved and the dig at the Red Cloud Agency is a good place to start.

“We haven’t quite decided where we will dig yet, but there are a couple of trader houses just outside the fortifications,” Bozell said.

During the day, participants will have the opportunity to meet new people, learn archaeological techniques and make new discoveries alongside professional History Nebraska archaeologists. Reddish said the events are to get people involved in their own history and to see if archaeology is a field they are interested in.

“This is for the citizens and anyone who has an interest in the field,” Reddish said. “You might like history and never thought about archaeology before.”

One of the best parts of the day is actually being a part of history, Reddish said.

“It’s better than looking through Plexiglas at an artifact,” she said. “Here, you get to get your hands dirty with hands-on history.”

Participants can also enjoy two free History Nebraska events at Fort Robinson the same weekend. On Saturday, Sept. 29, a talk will be presented in the mare barn about recent archaeological work in Sioux County and the Sand Hills. Visitors can also bring their own artifacts for identification.

“We will have an open house with a couple of informal slide talks about archaeology around the fort and in general,” Bozell said. “You can also bring anything you have found and we will try to identify it.”

On Sunday, Sept. 30, from 2-4 p.m., a free Family Fun Day will take place at the Veterinary Hospital at Fort Robinson. Those in attendance will have the chance to meet History Nebraska’s professional archaeologists, participate in a mini archaeological dig and create fun archaeology crafts.

At the mini dig, participants will learn how to plot out a site and why each methodical step is taken before, during and after a dig begins.

Since you have to be over age 16 to participate in the dig, History Nebraska has made the Family Fun Day an event for the entire family. There will be activities where younger children can color, complete word finds and “dig” for fossils. Plastic totes will be filled with sand and there will be fossils inside. Youth will be given paint brushes to then find the fossils.

There will also be an activity involving pictures of European ceramics that Nolan Johnson, archaeologist at History Nebraska, has found over the years. Children can take the patterns from the pictures and color them on their own paper plate.

“Then, we will cut them up like you would find a broken artifact,” Johnson said.

As you move through each station, the pieces will “move” farther apart like they would naturally if they were a real artifact to demonstrate why, over time, it gets to be more difficult to determine how everything fits together.

“People tend to pick things up for their mantle for fun and we lose pieces that way, making it hard for us to piece the puzzle together,” Johnson said. “This is an easy way to show kids how artifacts dissipate from sites.”

At the mini dig, youth will be turned loose with trowels.

“There will be artifacts they can uncover and we don’t have to worry about being exact in how stuff is set up,” Johnson said. “With as long as the fort was in use, I’m sure we will find something.”

The Red Cloud Agency was chosen among many places in the state because it was around before the fort and one of the earliest sites in the state.

“So much of the fort was occupied, reoccupied and reoccupied through the 1950s,” Bozell said. “The Red Cloud Agency had one occupancy for a few years so it’s relatively pristine without a lot of layers to complicate things.”

Courtney Ziska, History Nebraska archaeologist, archaeology month chair and organizer of the state celebration, said History Nebraska and archaeology as a whole has been trying to get out of Lincoln and Omaha. The history museum in Lincoln only reaches part of the state. History Nebraska wants to reacher a wider audience.

“This gives us a chance to network with that part of the state and with landowners,” Ziska said. “We are hoping to reach a wider audience that doesn’t get to interact with us.”

The events at Fort Robinson are part of archaeology month in Nebraska. Each year during September, talks, activities and a variety of events are held throughout the state for the public.

Registration is $50 per person for one day and $80 for both days of the dig. History Nebraska members will receive a discount. Lunch and all tools will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own water, hat and gloves. Lodging is not included. You must be at least 16 years old to participate. Registration is limited to 30 people per day, but is open to as many people who want to come out and watch.

For more information and to register, visit https://history.nebraska.gov/events/dig.

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