SIOUX CITY | People could be peeling off U.S. Highway 20 in years ahead to see a spot near Correctionville, Iowa, where cultural artifacts from indigenous American sites of 1,000 years ago would be highlighted.
There could be an area dedicated to framing how indigenous Americans lived in the bountiful area in the Little Sioux Valley. It is an expanse where farmers for decades have found arrowheads and other artifacts from centuries ago, and the recent discovery of geoglyphs is giving impetus to create an interpretive area.
The work in the area by archeologists turned up more than 15,000 artifacts.
Woodbury County and Correctionville officials are in early planning stages to display or give interpretive summary of the artifacts found over the last few years when the U.S. Highway 20 modernization project cut into lands just west of the Little Sioux River. That spot is up a hill that gives a great vantage to the lush valley where Native Americans lived off the land, buried some descendants and dug out geoglyphs in the shapes of animals.
"It is an area rich with historical artifacts," Woodbury County Conservation Board Director Rick Schneider said.
Trees on 241 acres were planned for removal for the highway project. Once those artifacts were found, the Iowa Department of Transportation plan for the highway west of Correctionville was slightly rerouted.
IDOT Planner Dakin Schultz said no human remains were found, but the highway design from Minnesota Avenue east to Correctionville had to be narrowed to minimize impacts to the site.
Schneider said the geoglyphs are similar but not the same as the Effigy Mounds burial mounds in eastern Iowa near the Mississippi River. He described geoglyphs west of Correctionville that are V-shaped trenches dug in the shape of animals, including one like a buffalo.
Schneider said some burial sites date back 500 to 600 years ago, while IDOT personnel found geoglyphs that were made about 1,200 years ago. Those have not been removed, but are kept in confidential spots, so as not to disturb the items of cultural significance.
The Woodbury County Conservation Board is processing a memorandum of understanding with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation to get assistance in acquiring roughly 90 acres of land, in a timbered area, to protect the cultural resources west of Correctionville.
"The Correctionville community is planning to develop an area to interpret the cultural resources and the Conservation Board would hope to collaborate with the community on this potential attraction," Schneider said.
Correctionville is a town of 821 people in eastern Woodbury County. Correctionville City Clerk Carla Mathers said at this point it is not clear if the city of Correctionville or rather the nonprofit Correctionville Economic Development Corp. will take the lead on any interpretive center in town.
There have been some seminars in recent months on items found through the highway digging, including from a trove of items found on the north side of the highway, Schneider said.
A 2015 program titled "Spirits From Above: Archaeology on the Bluff for Highway 20 Reconstruction" was held in Correctionville. In that session, a research archaeologist with Bear Creed Archaeology of Cresco, Iowa, presented a slide show on discovered geoglyphs and described the rituals that may have taken place.
"That room was full...It was pretty interesting," Mathers said.
IDOT in September released a video on YouTube titled “Landscapes that Shape Us.”
The video notes that the cultural resources discovery in the Highway 20 expansion project in Woodbury County resulted in government agencies, Native American tribes, historians and archaeologists working together to balance transportation needs while protecting cultural resources and the integrity of the land.
Schneider said the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation will hold the land with historical artifacts while the county seeks grants to purchase the properties. He expects that grant to arrive in 2018.