"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY. The systematic study of the archaeological history of Dubuque County began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when many burial mounds and mound groups were located, mapped, and excavated. In 1968, an attempt was made to discover the remains of the house used by Julien DUBUQUE. This excavation, by the Office of the State Archaeologist, did find a miner's cabin of the 1830s and a Late Woodland burial.
In 1973, a survey was carried out south of Dubuque to locate and identify both prehistoric and historic habitation in the MINES OF SPAIN area. This work centered on the mouth of CATFISH CREEK but included the bluffs along the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. The project successfully located and recorded several examples of prehistoric and historic sites.
In 1977, Anton Till conducted an archaeological survey. Focusing on the bluffs along the Mississippi, the project recorded four sites within the Mines of Spain. An attempt to not only locate the previously recorded sites but find new locations took place during the summer of 1981. As a result of the effort, ten of the fifteen previously recorded sites were relocated and an additional fifty-eight new prehistoric sites and seventy-nine new historic sites were discovered and recorded.
The same survey crew in 1977 discovered between Dubuque and Sageville west of Highway 52 North, what became known as the LITTLE MAQUOKETA RIVER MOUNDS PRESERVE described as eastern Iowa's best preserved prehistoric burial sites. The 42-acre parcel was purchased by the Iowa Department of Transportation in 1977 with assistance from federal, state and local agencies in cooperation with Native American representatives. Constructed between 200 A.D. and 1700 A.D. the mounds ranged from one to four feet in length. An estimated ten thousand loads of earth were carried to the site by people using stone implements and baskets. (1)
In 1994, excavations on KELLY'S BLUFF in Dubuque resulted in the discovery of human bones. These were believed to be the remains of bodies buried on the site when the hill was used as the THIRD STREET CEMETERY, a Catholic site. Similar findings were made in 2005-2006 when construction work began on a proposed building on the premises.
In 1995, prior to reconstruction work on Highway 52, exploration of archaeologically-sensitive sites was carried out between Dubuque and Bellevue. This led to the discovery of what was later known as the Carroll Rock Shelter. The excavation of 1,097 artifacts resulted in the site being dated to 600-900 A.D. (2)
In 2012 a site was explored west of Dubuque along Highway 20. The area, one of six planned construction sites considered eligible for listing in the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES, was destined to be an interchange for the Southwest Arterial. Among the artifacts recovered were tools, tool fragments, small rock formations and possible campfire locations. A small leather punch tool discovered dated from 2,500 to 7,000 B.C. (3)
Because of its eligibility to be listed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES, the BEE BRANCH was the scene of archaeological activity before the beginning of the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project. Investigators with Tallgrass Prairie LLC of Iowa City located, uncovered and documented thousands of artifacts dating to the 1800s. Many of these including dishes, cups, toys, pipes and dolls were located in residential and commercial wells, cisterns and privies. Uncovered artifacts were photographed and catalogued.
See: Bee Branch Creek Archaeology https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVAoR4uxZss
The picture of the area revealed a working class neighborhood and the suspected strong Catholic faith. Bones with strange cuts suggested that workers in meat packing companies were able to bring home cuts of meat considered unfit to sell. While homes were intended to be single-family, artifacts suggested the dwelling were often occupied by several families.
Many of the artifacts will be housed at the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist. Duplicates will be returned to Dubuque and given to local museums. (4)
2. Collins, James. Phase I Archaeological Evaluation of the Carroll Rock Shelter 13Db486 Primary Roads Project Stp-52-2(17)--2J-31 A.K.A. PIN 71-31060-1, Dubuque County. core.tdar.org/document/319370
3. Jacobson, Ben. "Nearly as 'Old as Dirt,'" Telegraph Herald, Nov. 15, 2012, p. 1
4. Kruse, John, "Bee Branch Project Digs Up the Past," Telegraph Herald, February 4, 2020, p. 1A