Beneath minnesota waters

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Minnesota’s Submerged Cultural Resource Preservation Plan

State Historic Preservation Office

Minnesota Historical Society

June 1997

Prepared by:

Summit Envirosolutions, Inc.

Braun Intertec
Written by:

Mitchell W. Marken, Ph.D.

Amy Ollendorf, Ph.D.

Pat Nunnally, Ph.D.

Scott Anfinson, Ph.D.

Funding for this project was approved by the Minnesota Legislature,

ML 1995, Chapter 220, Sec. 19, Subd. 12(f),

as recommended by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources,

from the Minnesota Futures Resources Fund




A. Minnesota Field Archaeology Act

B. Minnesota Private Cemeteries Act

C. Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines

D. Minnesota SHPO Guidelines for Conducting Underwater Archaeological Surveys

E. Wisconsin Law on Underwater Cultural Resources

Cover Illustration: Bull-of-the-Woods shipwreck, Burntside Lake, St. Louis County, Minnesota.

Minnesota, blessed with over 15,000 lakes, and headwaters to the mighty Mississippi River, has a rich and colorful history hidden by the waters of time. Water, the lifeblood of survival, and a highway for travel, has had a magnetic attraction for people since the beginning. Our fascination for the world beneath the water drove pioneer diver Jacques Cousteau and Emil Gagnan in their quest to develop a self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) in the 1940’s allowing us the freedom to enter a once restricted world. The advent of scuba diving created a multitude of adventurous activities, and increased the boundaries of science beyond our shores. As exploration of our lakes, rivers, and oceans grew, a previously hidden part of history began to present itself to the terrestrial world. Shipwrecks and remnants of sunken civilizations were now no longer a part of legend and dreams, they were within reach of science, the general public, and treasure seekers alike. As historical sites, shipwrecks are an archaeologist’s dream: a closed context, disturbed only by the effects of nature, with an instant frozen in time. To the sport diver, they are the epitome of aquatic adventure and exploration, and to the treasure seeker, they are repositories of unclaimed fortunes, guarded only by the depth of the water, free to anyone that has the good fortune to find them.
Needless to say, differing perspectives on submerged sites have led to a considerable amount of discussion, and necessitated the creation of national legislation in an attempt to mediate the often conflicting desires of the “academic” community, the diving public and the treasure hunters. But like many problems of today, there is no clear cut way to satisfy the needs of everyone involved. There are however, a few common grounds that all agree upon: 1) Shipwrecks and submerged sites are slowly but surely deteriorating. 2) Shipwrecks and submerged archaeological sites are valuable sources of historical information. 3) Diving on a shipwreck is one of the most exciting diving experiences there is. 4) As a whole, we want to preserve and protect these resources for future generations.
Minnesota is rich in underwater cultural resources, in both Lake Superior and its inland lakes and rivers. In vessels ranging from canoes to ore carriers, people have moved across Minnesota’s waters for over a hundred centuries. Because of misfortune, or by design, some of these historic watercraft have been relegated to the bottoms of lakes and rivers or imbedded in our shorelines. Many of the shipwrecks in Lake Superior have been identified, but few have been scientifically investigated. Although the most notoriously treacherous of the Great Lakes, Superior is estimated to be the resting place of only 350 of the perhaps 10,000 shipwrecks thought to be contained in the Great Lakes region. Wrecks thought to be located within Minnesota waters of Lake Superior number around 50. Many wrecks have been located, yet at least half still lay undiscovered. Lake Minnetonka is also the site of several wrecks, including scuttled streetcar boats. Within the shore zones on many of the state’s waterbodies, are hidden the remains of prehistoric settlements, fur posts, and historic harbors.
Minnesota is not alone in its need to figure out how to manage these resources. In response to the concerns expressed by both the interested public and the archaeological community, Congress passed the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-298) which effectively gave control of submerged cultural resources to the individual states. It then became each state’s responsibility to protect, manage, and preserve their own submerged cultural resources. Several states have simply applied existing state law to underwater sites, while others have passed new laws (see Wisconsin’s in Appendix E) and started interactive programs to enrich these resources. In response to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Minnesota Historical Society requested and received funding from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) in 1989 to study shipwrecks of the state and to develop a baseline management plan for all submerged cultural resources within the state. The LCMR has generously funded three SHPO-sponsored biennial shipwreck initiatives over the last 10 years.
Developing a plan is the third step in the process the Minnesota SHPO has taken to manage its submerged cultural resources. The first phase consisted of attempting, through systematic field survey and historical research, to develop an inventory of submerged sites. This process is ongoing. Another source of information used to develop this inventory was incorporation of public knowledge, such as from the local sport diving community. The result was a listing of wrecks, and other shoreline sites that lay beneath the waters of the state, or imbedded in its shorezone. The second phase consisted of the evaluation of the known sites for their historical importance, and the listing of eligible sites in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Following the first two phases, this management plan is intended to address the present and future needs of submerged sites, and create a framework for the discovery and treatment of new resources. How to protect the sites from deterioration from natural causes, inadvertent destruction from development, and from vandalism are issues of major concern. Of equal importance is to attempt to ascertain how to extract the information from the sites to give us a better idea of who we are today, and how to involve the people of the state in utilizing the resources to the benefit of all.
The plan is presented as follows: A legislative overview is presented giving a summary of existing legislation governing archaeological properties, followed by a brief overview of the state’s Pre-Contact history, including possible site types that may be discovered in the future, and preservation issues. An overview of the more recent historic era is presented, in relation to corresponding contexts developed by the state, and a description of the types of activities that may produce submerged sites. Because Lake Superior has been the main focus of previous investigations, and many sites are known, the plan addresses current preservation issues for all documented shipwreck sites that are considered significant. Also incorporated, are the preliminary results of a recent inland lakes and river study, including an overview of the documentary search and NRHP recommendations for sites identified in the field. In addition to issues related to known sites, other general topics are discussed and the SHPO’s current views concerning them. The final section describes the public notification process used to elicit comments from the diving public.

There are many laws that govern the management, preservation and interpretation of historic properties in the United States. The most recent law written specifically for submerged cultural resources, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-298), effectively gives control to individual states for the management of sites on their bottomlands (see Appendix C). In the Act the federal government asserts ownership to all abandoned shipwrecks in U.S. waters, but then transfers title to the individual states. In order to come under the jurisdiction of the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act a vessel must truly be abandoned and it must be embedded in submerged lands or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The definition of “abandoned” has caused the most legal difficulty. The Act also directs states to develop policies that: 1) protect natural resources and habitat areas, 2) guarantee recreational access to shipwrecks, and 3) allow for appropriate recovery of shipwrecks consistent with historical values. States are encouraged to establish underwater parks and develop management plans.
In addition to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, the state of Minnesota operates under other federal and state legislation. The most comprehensive law pertaining to the protection of cultural resources is the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, which created the State Historic Preservation Offices in each state and expanded the National Register of Historic Places. The law sets forth guidelines when federal agencies conduct projects, and established the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation as a third party allowed to comment on projects. Other federal laws that govern these and other cultural resources are the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
The state has also enacted legislation which pertains to cultural resources, including the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act (Minn. Stat. 138.31 - 138.42) which requires licenses to engage in archaeology on public land, and establishes state ownership of sites on non-federal public lands (see Appendix A); the Minnesota Historic Sites Act (Minn. Stat. 138.661 - 138.6691) which established the State Historic Sites network and the State Register of Historic Places; and the Minnesota Historic District Act (Minn. Stat. 138.71 - 138.75) which designates certain historic districts and enables local governments to create commissions to provide archaeological control in their jurisdictions. The Minnesota Private Cemeteries Act (Minn. Stat. 307.08) is also applicable to some shipwreck sites in that the law protects all human burials or skeletal remains on public or private land or waters (Appendix B).
Several other Minnesota laws and judicial rulings have applicability to underwater cultural resources. In the 1954 State v. Bollenbach (241 Minn. 103, 115-16, 63 N.W.2d 278,286) it was established that the state owns the soil under the state’s navigable bodies of water. According to the Minnesota Attorney Generals Office, this ownership extends to the average low water level. The state has clear regulatory powers between the average high and average low water levels, but ownership of this area is unclear. Lost Property on State Land (Minn. Stat. 16B.25) is placed under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Administration. Counties have jurisdiction over water areas within their boundaries (Minn. Stat. 1.03).
For many years, there has been a feeling of “exemption” for submerged sites from existing legislation which technically covers all sites on public lands. The SHPO has attempted to create workable guidelines for professionally examining shipwrecks, and other submerged sites, (Appendix D) and also allow public participation while preserving the historical value of the resources. If the laws were followed to the letter, acts such as taking a “souvenir” from a wreck dive, or grabbing a piece of a beached wreck on public land for firewood would be crimes against the state. Because strict enforcement is not feasible, and the majority of these “crimes” are committed through ignorance, it is hoped that awareness and education can instill a preservation ethic among the would-be offenders.

Known and Possible Site Types
Our understanding of events and people in the Pre-Contact Period (9500 B.C. - A.D. 1650) is tied in many ways to the environmental history of the region. It is believed that humans have only inhabited the North American mid-continent for just over 10,000 years. Since the northward retreat of the last glaciers, Minnesota's human and environmental histories have been intertwined.
The first humans thought to inhabit Minnesota are referred to by archaeologists as the "Paleoindians." These people likely entered North America across the land-bridge connecting Alaska and Siberia during a period of low sea level caused by the formation of the vast continental ice sheets during the most recent ice age. Their way of life included big game hunting of now extinct animals (e.g., mammoths, giant sloths, etc.), small game hunting, and wild plant gathering. During this time most of the state was covered by a coniferous forest except where large lakes had formed due to the melting glaciers. In Minnesota, we know of the Paleoindians by occasional finds of stone tools and even less frequent finds of human skeletal remains.
Because only Native Americans occupied this landscape, the Paleoindian Tradition marks the beginning of the Pre-Contact Period. This tradition merged into the Archaic Tradition around 7,000 B.C. which then lasted to about 500 B.C. During the early Archaic, temperatures were sufficiently warm to allow for the development of a mixed deciduous forest and then the prairie. The border separating these two ecological communities, known to paleoecologists as "the prairie-forest boundary," waxed and waned over the centuries creating opportunities for small bands of people to hunt and gather from a variety of ecological niches. Like the Paleoindians, we only know about the Archaic people from scant archaeological finds. Diagnostic artifacts consist primarily of stone projectile points, although copper tools and fishing implements also characterize the Archaic.
The Woodland Tradition began in Minnesota around 500 B.C. Recognition of this tradition by archaeologists is based on the appearance of ceramics at archaeological sites. Subdivisions of the Woodland Tradition, are by and large based upon the plethora of ceramic styles (e.g., Fox Lake, Havana-related, Malmo, Laurel, Brainerd, St. Croix, Lake Benton, Kathio, Blackduck, and Psinomani). During the Woodland period , mound building also began, usually for the practice of burial. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continued to be the main ways of life, although cultivation of native seed plants such as sunflower and marsh-elder gradually gained in importance during the Woodland. The Woodland Tradition appears to have survived largely intact in northern Minnesota until the intrusion of Euro-Americans in the mid-1600s.
By around A.D. 900, cultivation of native and introduced plants (e.g., maize) became important along with permanent villages and a number of new artifact types (e.g., hoes) were developed in support of the new ways of life. These new developments mark the beginning of the Plains Village Tradition and the Mississippian Tradition. The Plains Village Tradition is a western Minnesota cultural development that is identified on the basis of evidence for a heavy reliance on bison and maize. The Plains Village Tradition lasted until about A.D. 1300.
Evidence for the Mississippian Tradition is most prevalent in the southeast part of the state but also extends northward and westward. The national type localities for the Mississippian Tradition are much further south and east (e.g., Cahokia in southern Illinois), but shell-tempered, globular ceramic vessels, and a partial reliance on maize also characterize the northern extension of the Mississippian Tradition. A major Minnesota variant of the Mississippian Tradition is referred to by archaeologists as "Oneota" which appears to represent in part the ancestors of today’s Siouan speaking peoples in the Upper Midwest (e.g., Ioway, Dakota).
By about A.D. 1650, the Woodland and Mississippian traditions had ended with the influx of early Europeans (e.g., French fur traders and missionaries) into the region. This phenomenon marks the end of the Pre-Contact Period and the beginning of the Contact Period. Throughout the Contact Period, interactions among a number of Native American ethnic groups (e.g., Chiwere Siouan language group, Eastern Dakota, Western Dakota, and Ojibwe), Europeans (e.g., French and British), and later Americans (a conglomeration of people of European, African, and Asian descent) occurred. Furs, beads, and liquor are only some examples of trade goods that passed between Native Americans and the first Europeans.
The Contact Period lasted until around 1837 when Native Americans were forcibly divided into communities and put onto reservations while Euro-American settlement expanded and new ways of life (i.e., lumbering and intensive agriculture) overtook the region.
Site Expectations
Submerged sites are highly probable, although silty lake and river bottoms have lessened the possibility of chance discoveries, and made the sites difficult for archaeologists to find. Chance finds, however, do occur, and they may be associated with archaeological sites. One example of such a find is a water-worn stone tool, submerged long enough for the wave and current action to leave their marks. Petroglyphs (prehistoric rock art) were frequently produced on rock faces accessible only by canoe or boat, of which some are now submerged because of dam construction or naturally changing lake levels. The North Shore of Lake Superior has witnessed extreme level fluctuations over the last 10,000 years. A report made by a sport diver of submerged "stone igloos or rings" near Grand Portage may be an early Indian lodge.
Animal kill sites have been found underwater in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For instance, bison bones were found in situ (in their original place) by a boy swimming in a Minnesota lake with an arrowhead imbedded in one of the bones. In Wisconsin, a mammoth or mastodon kill site was identified in a drained wetland, as well as a Pre-Contact fishing weir. Rooted tree stumps have been discovered in Duluth Harbor which evidence ancient shorelines.
Finds of Pre-Contact or Contact vessels such as dugout canoes and flat-bottom ricing boats have also been found in Minnesota lakes. For instance, several dugouts have been found in or near Lake Minnetonka and some at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Aitkin County. The remains of a birch bark canoe and paddles were found during underwater excavations at the Fort Charlotte site in northeastern Minnesota (Wheeler et al. 1975). More substantial vessels associated with early Euro-American exploration or commercial activities may also be found in Minnesota waters, especially in Lake Superior and the lower Mississippi River.
The influx of Euroamericans into Minnesota dramatically altered the prehistoric people’s (Native American) lifeways with conflict and coexistence marking this chapter in Minnesota’s history. French forts with aboriginal components have been found in Minnesota at several locations. An archaeological investigation at Fort St. Charles on Magnusson Island in Lake of the Woods yielded a Native American site contemporary with the French fort (1731-1750s). The Native American component is partially inundated because of the Kenora Dam in Ontario. Near the terminus of Grand Portage, more than 14,000 artifacts associated with Fort Charlotte and earlier Native Americans were recovered during an archaeological investigation of the bottom of the Pigeon River (Wheeler et al. 1975).
Other than isolated finds, much Pre-Contact or Contact material has been identified or recovered as part of modern land-use activities (e.g., dam drawdowns and flooding) or cultural resources investigations of more recent sites. A plethora of submerged Pre-Contact sites are thought to exist in northern lakes as well as the major rivers, sites thought to have been inundated as a result of flooding by dam installations. For instance, major lakes such as Lake Winnibigoshish, Knife Lake, Leech Lake, Cass Lake, Whitefish Lake, Red Lake, and Gull Lake have been greatly affected by the construction of dams, whereas the channels of the Crow Wing, Mississippi, and Minnesota rivers have been greatly modified by the construction of dam installations. A number of reservoir lakes have also been created northwest of Duluth where hundreds of Pre-Contact sites were flooded. There has been at least one report of a person looting a submerged burial site at Lake Winnibigoshish. In addition, Pikes Fort south of Little Falls, Minnesota, has been greatly affected by the construction of the Blanchard Dam in the Mississippi River.
In addition to the previous shoreline sites suspected to be inundated by the waters of lakes, a great deal of artifacts are typically found on islands in these lakes. Whether or not a landform is an emergent island or a submerged archaeological site depends on the lake's water level.
Because of the type and degree of landscape changes that have occurred since the retreat of the last glaciers, it is likely that many archaeological sites are either deeply buried or submerged. Sites can become deeply buried by sedimentation caused by upland erosion or stream deposition. Submergence of low-lying sites occurred when water levels initially rose while the glaciers were retreating or following dry periods when lake levels were much lower than today. These sites, most of which have not been discovered, are only in danger of destruction from major construction projects which alter the bottoms of lakes, rivers, and shorelines. As long as these sites stay inundated, intentional human intervention is not seen as a major threat.
Inundated sites can be exposed, however, by short-term climatic events and intensive post-contact/modern land use. For instance, during the drought years of the mid-1930s and late 1980s, water levels dropped significantly and may have exposed many previously submerged archaeological sites. Similarly, intensive cultivation by Euro-Americans has lowered groundwater levels thus affecting regional water supplies and exposing many previously submerged archaeological sites. Conversely, many once-submerged archaeological sites have become obscured by sedimentation (e.g., lakes become bogs which later become only low spots that are periodically wet) caused by lowering regional water tables and/or increasing sedimentation into lake basins.
After consulting with others concerned with the preservation of submerged prehistoric and early historic resources a number of additional preservation concerns were identified. One concern is the fluctuating water levels caused by recent dam installations which can drastically alter the characteristics on submerged archaeological sites. During periods of low water, archaeological sites can erode from riverbanks or shorelines into the water, losing their integrity. Even high water can have the same effect on a site that was previously unaffected by water levels due to wave action, which can alter site characteristics on the newly established shorelines. River barges on the major inland waterways can also be considered dangerous to submerged archaeological sites. For example, wave action caused by the barges and accidental shoreline scraping may do damage to archaeological sites. Another source of danger is natural processes such as wave action, freeze-thaw, and chemical decomposition. These processes endanger such sites as petroglyphs and organic remains.
Possible Solutions
It is difficult to estimate the damage to sites without a clear knowledge of what lies within sensitive dynamic areas. Because many of the prehistoric site types occur on inland waterbodies and shorezone environments, sampling of different settings to determine the presence or absence of sites, the state of preservation, and the effects of natural and human activities will help clarify the current situation. Once the resources are identified, site specific preservation measures can be suggested. Although it seems that the best solution to these dangers is to maintain a stable submerged state to prevent decay of the archaeological items, it is unlikely that this measure could be maintained. Workable solutions in situations of site destruction can be reached, however, such as riprapping, which has been used to stabilize riverbanks and lake shorelines.
Because these prehistoric resources are less visible, and less exciting to the public, far less attention has been paid to them. Consequently, our data base is lacking in several areas, and our ability to locate and evaluate these sites is restricted by current locational methods. Ideally, new technologies will be developed to assist in both our ability to locate and interpret this part of the historical record.

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