Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Meagan Schoenfelder's blog

Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Scattered Village Ceramics, Paleo Points, and an Archaic Donation

A variety of things are always happening in North Dakota’s archaeology collections. Here are just three highlights from the past few months.

In November, I went with several other staff to help deinstall the Scattered Village display at the Mandan Public Library. Scattered Village (32MO31) was a Mandan village. Part of the current city of Mandan is now located on top of this archaeological site. Some of the village was excavated during street work in the 1990s, and the artifacts on display are from that project. The ceramics are a lot of fun to look at up close. For instance, there is an animal effigy on this large pot fragment.

A dark brown piece of broken pottery with horizontal lines at the top and angled lines throughout the rest of it.

A reconstructed straight rim pot with an animal effigy from Scattered Village (32MO31). SHSND AHP 99.10.V9.302.2740

This vessel fragment below is elaborately decorated—you can see the marks from the paddle used to shape the vessel on the lower part, while the top part is decorated with cord-and-tool impressions.

A dark brown piece of broken pottery with thin horizontal lines surrounding thicker vertical lines at the top

A reconstructed Knife River ware rim with cord-and-tool impressions from Scattered Village (32MO31). SHSND AHP 99.10.V2.278.2935

I also can’t help but like the tiny face on this rim sherd pictured below.

A close up of the top of a piece of broken pottery. It is dark brown with angled lines and a face.

Detail of a face-like effigy on a Le Beau ware rim from Scattered Village (32MO31). SHSND AHP 99.10.V6.256.2932

Another highlight was a donation of Paleoindian projectile points from a site in McLean County (32ML1350). The points in this collection are around 9,000 years old. They are very finely made, and the edges are still rather sharp. This kind of point is called an Eden point; it is made from Knife River flint.

An amber and brown colored projectile point

An Eden projectile point, made of Knife River flint, from 32ML1350. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.47

This Eden point, below, is made from porcellanite.

A tan colored projectile point with a dark brown section spanning the width of it in the upper middle portion

A porcellanite Eden projectile point from the McLean County site (32ML1350). SHSND AHP 2020A.3.44

This is a Scottsbluff projectile point. It is also made from Knife River flint.

A dark brown projectile point that looks quite short

A Scottsbluff projectile point made of Knife River flint from 32ML1350. SHSND AHP 2020A.3.41

Another fascinating donation came from southeastern North Dakota. We were excited to receive it since we don’t have many collections from that part of the state. It includes several large trays of projectile points, drills, and other objects.

A dark gray drill made out of stone and a tanish colored point that looks similar to a long tooth

This copper point and stone drill are from southeastern North Dakota. SHSND AHP Maercklein Collection

Many of the points, including the one above, are from the Archaic period, which lasted from approximately 5500 B.C. to 400 B.C.

Six projectile points are lined up in a row. The first three are similar in height with the next two being taller and the last one shorter. The colors in order of the points are gray, tan, tan, tan and gray, tan and gray, and gray.

Here are a few of the many projectile points from this donation. We so appreciate the generosity of these donors. SHSND AHP Maercklein Collection

Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Pottery from On-A-Slant Village

The volunteers and I are back in the archaeology lab, and we continue to work on rehousing artifacts from On-A-Slant Village (32MO26) at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near Mandan (for more about On-A-Slant Village, see There are many boxes of ceramics from this site. We are enjoying the variety of quality, sizes, and designs. Traditionally, Mandan potters were women. Here are just a few examples of the pottery that they made. The pottery is found in a variety of sizes. There are a few small decorated vessels like these.

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Incised lines and finger or tool impressions are visible on these small pots from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.6.2, 451; photo by David Nix)

There are also large pots like this.

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Incised lines and finger or tool impressions are visible on these small pots from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.6.2, 451; photo by David Nix)

This example is undecorated, but we know it was shaped using a paddle because you can see marks (called simple-stamping) on the body of the pot. There are many examples of simple-stamped sherds from On-A-Slant—here is a close-up of another simple-stamped sherd.

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A simple-stamped body sherd from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.2.59; photo by David Nix)

The paddles used to shape the pots had grooves like these examples from our educational collection.

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Replica pottery anvil stone and two replica simple-stamp paddles (SHSND AHP educational collection)

To shape the pot, the potter held a smooth stone (called an anvil) on the inside of the pot while she used the paddle on the outside of the pot.

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A replica pot and paddle tool (replica pot by Wade Haakenson, paddle from the SHSND AHP educational collection)

Much of the decorated pottery from On-A-Slant Village is decorated with cord impressions that come in a variety of patterns and designs.

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Cord impressed rim sherds from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.4.707, 1321, 807)

The potter used cords similar to these to decorate the pottery.

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Replica cords – the one on the left is made from sinew, the one on the right is made from plant fiber (SHSND AHP educational collection)

There are also many sherds with incised or trailed designs.

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Incised sherds from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.2.123, 132, 133, 134; photos by David Nix)

A stick could be used as a tool, or it could be carved to create different kinds of lines in the clay.

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Stick tools (SHSND AHP educational collection)

Similar tools could be used to make impressions in the clay as well. My favorite kind of decorations are impressions made by cord-wrapped stick tools. These interesting tools make designs that look like this.

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Cord wrapped stick impressed sherds from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.4.1530, 747, 913; photos by David Nix)

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Replica cord-wrapped-stick tools (SHSND AHP educational collection)

I also enjoy the really fancy designs like this one.

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There are many kinds of decoration on this rim sherd from On-A-Slant Village (83.442.4.799; photo by David Nix)

This pot has almost everything—cord impressions along the rim and under the rim along the neck, tool impressions (the round dots), incised lines, and ridges from shaping the pot using simple-stamping (visible along the broken edge of the pot).