[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Professional Archaeologists of Kansas
NEWS RELEASE April 5, 2004

  • Dr. Brad Logan, President, Professional Archaeologists of Kansas, (785)532-2419, blogan@ksu.edu

  • Dr. Robert Hoard, State Archeologist, Kansas State Historical Society, (785)272-8681, x-269, rhoard@kshs.org

  • Virginia Wulfkuhle, Public Archeologist, Kansas State Historical Society, (785)272-8681 x-255, vwulfkuhle@kshs.org

April is Kansas Archaeology Month!

Kansas Archeology Month celebrates the role of archaeology in studying and understanding the state's historic and prehistoric past. The purpose is to increased public knowledge about the past, the science of archaeology, and to involve the public in protecting our cultural heritage. 

As part of our educational outreach for Kansas Archaeology Month 2004, The Professional Archaeologists of Kansas is providing a series of four articles about Kansas archaeology. The first article in this series, prepared by Dr. Robert Hoard, the State Archeologist, is presented below:

What is Archeology?

For over 11,000 years people have lived in what we now call Kansas. But when fifth graders get their big dose of Kansas history, they discover the first written records we have of Kansans are from Coronado's 1541 visit, and the written history is pretty sparse until the mid-1800s. That means that about 95% of the state's history was never written down.

A lot has changed in 11,000 years. The Ice Age ended, and animals like the wooly mammoth became extinct in this area. But people were here, descendants of people who crossed over from northwest Asia. These people hunted the mammoth and other animals, and when these creatures disappeared they focused on bison, elk, deer, and small game. Families moved into an area, captured and gathered what food was readily available, and when the search became more difficult, moved on to where food was more plentiful. Between seven and five thousand years ago the region's climate became noticeably drier.  People adapted by living near the remaining sources of water and focused on local plants and animals for food. When the rains increased they spread out again, sometimes living in large groups for several seasons, maybe continuously for a few years. They spent more time harvesting small seeds from weeds like goosefoot and pigweed for food, and began making fired clay pots. Before long they were farmers, settled in villages, first growing native plants like sunflowers, later, about 1500 years ago, growing corn, beans, and squash. 

These are the people encountered by Coronado, later by French traders, still later by Lewis and Clark. Soon Americans of European and African descent had claimed and settled most of Kansas.

How do we know all of this? Some of our knowledge comes from oral history, stories handed down over generations in American Indian families. Some of this history has been written down, but much more was not. Still, there is another way to discover the past. If you look hard you can find the traces of the earliest people of Kansas. You can find the discarded tip of a broken stone spear point or the burned circle of earth where someone roasted roots for a meal.  You can find pieces of pottery scattered across a field. Sometimes people find storage pits that were filled with household debris after they were emptied of food. Sometimes house floors with fire pits, storage pits, and the remains of wall posts are found. 

Those of us that study these remains are archeologists, and we use the traces left by those before us to reconstruct their way of life. We trace the changes in stone tools and pottery to get a general idea of which styles were in use earlier and which are more recent, and test our assumptions by radiocarbon dating organic material from archeological sites. We map the locations of sites and the houses, fire pits and storage pits to see where they fall on the landscape, to see where one kind of site ends and another begins. We look at the plant and animal remains discarded after meals and find out what season they were harvested and then know if a site was occupied for weeks, months, or years. We find artifacts from far away and begin to learn which groups were trading partners.

It's not just American Indian sites that are studied. Records for early forts, trading posts, small businesses, and early Euro-American homesteads are limited, but excavation and analysis of these sites can tell us about these peoples' food choices, their economy, their health. Some groups like African Americans, women and children, railroad workers, and traders have an even fewer written records left behind. Archeologists look at the sites and artifacts left behind by these people to see how well they fit-or do not fit-with the recorded history.

You can spend a lifetime doing this kind of work, and some of us do.

We invite you to join us. April is Archeology Month, a time for us to share the stories that might otherwise never be heard. We will be keeping you posted with articles, lectures, and links to resources to help you hear these stories that are still being written.

Dr. Robert Hoard, State Archeologist
Kansas State Historical Society
6425 S. W. 6th Avenue
Topeka, Kansas  66615-1099
phone: 785.272.8681 x269 
fax:  785.272.8682


[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

This page was modified on 01/26/12.