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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mill Creek artifacts come home

Monday, February 28, 2005

Buena Vista Historical Museum exhibit to open in April

After three years of examining, recording and even marveling over the artifacts Rev. F.L. Van Voorhis recovered from the Mill Creek area, the Northwest Iowa Archeological Society out of Cherokee has turned over the one-of-a-kind collection to the Buena Vista County Historical Museum.

The artifacts were collected over a number of decades by Van Voorhis, an early amateur whose hobby was doing archeological work. Mill Creek people thrived in Northwest Iowa during the10th century, then disappeared into time. The collection was gathered in an area eight miles north of Alta.

Van Voorhis carefully documented the pieces he unearthed, using his own system. Each piece is coded in a way to show where the piece was found and what the fragments at one time were a part of, determined by his own research.

When Van Voorhis died, the display was donated to the Storm Lake Schools. It was entrusted to the library in the early 1980s. It eventually was turned over the the Buena Vista County Historical Museum. With much documentation work to do on the collection and a lack of time, the hodgepodge of tubs full of artifacts was loaned to the area archeological society. They made it their duty to organize the pieces, document each piece, and take an inventory of each, making the collection more accessible to national, as well as local, archaeologists who wish to study the Mill Creek culture.

It was a large job, said Linda Burkhart, director of the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, but one that was a wonderful experience for the members of the archeological society. "It was a great project for us and it was fun to go through the items. We all feel like we really accomplished something which will be helpful to other archaeologists and useful to the BV people."

Slides and pictures were taken of each of the 23 plastic tubs, which display similar items. Those pictures have been put on a CD and are available for those interested archaeologists that cannot get to Storm Lake to see the display firsthand but are interested in the findings.

Burkhart commented that the artifacts are up to 1,000 years old. The Mill Creek community was comprised of hunters and farmers.

Van Voorhis' collection captures the essence of the community. Tools made of bone were recovered, bone fishhooks, several items used as beads, pieces of pottery revealing the ornate work the people added to the items they used in daily life, and many arrow points.

Van Voorhis even collected charred corn, ash from the fire pits, sod blocks from home sites, clay, shells and even bison bones.

The quality of the artifacts Van Voorhis collected was "excellent", Burkhart pointed out. "What we were surprised about is the lack of small pieces he had." Van Voorhis kept the larger pieces and sent some items to the Milwaukee Museum to be restored to what the original pieces may have looked like.

"We have to admire him. He did the best he could with the knowledge he had at the time. He was good at what he did and so interested in archeology. Even though he was considered an amateur, he was the guy to talk to." Burkhart said she hates to think of what could have become of all the artifacts had his interest not been there - they all could have been plowed over or destroyed, leaving a hole in the history of the Mill Creek community.

Several of the items from the Van Voorhis collection will be on display in a new exhibit opening at the historical museum. The exhibit will be introduced at the Buena Vista County Historical Museum's annual meeting Sunday, April 24. Special speakers will be Jason Titcomb, a Holstein native, who now serves as the collection manager for the Center for American Archeology and Linda Burkhart. It is hoped that L. Van Voorhis, grandson of the Rev. Van Voorhis, will be in attendance also. The event is open to the public.

Burkhart is happy to see the artifacts come home.. "This is a wonderful collection and it needs to be accessible to people who want to study it," she said.



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