Prehistoric artifacts found in Jones Co. cave - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Prehistoric artifacts found in Jones Co. cave

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Prehistoric artifacts unearthed in an eastern Iowa cave have state archaeologists digging into the past.

The site is in Jones County, south of Monticello and Cascade.

The Jones County Conservation Board sought the cave's excavation while acquiring the land from a private owner. The entire 525 acres the county is getting will soon be open for public use.

In the meantime, an archeologist and a team comprised mostly of AmeriCorps volunteers are sifting through buckets of dirt from the cave as part of a seven-week excavation process.

Bryan Kendall is an assistant project archeologist working for the Office of the State Archeologist, based out of the University of Iowa. He said the artifacts coming out of the cave look to be about 1,000 years old, give or take 500 years.

Kendall also said it appears someone looted the site some 20 years ago, so now the team is working to dig up any remaining clues.

The excavation site is quite literally off the beaten path, but Kendall knows it well by now.

"These types of things are the highlights of your career, really," he said Thursday at the excavation site. "It's getting to do these types of projects."

The team is finding, "a lot of animal bones, some pottery and a lot of mussel shell -- so clams and these sorts of things -- and a little bit of work stone and chip stone, for making tools," Kendall said. "You can learn information about what they're eating, how they're organizing their social groups within the cave, where they're cooking, where they're sleeping, how many people potentially were occupying an area at any one point in time."

The team is using screens to sift through dirt from the cave, looking for the tiny fragments.

"You get to have a pretty good eye for these things after a while," Jess Tyler said. He's leader of this AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps team and said excavation isn't the typical assignment.

"We've been doing all sorts of different things," Tyler said. "We worked with Habitat for Humanity for about two months in Ohio, we had a summer camp project, and we worked at a botanical garden, and now we're here."

When they're all done, the excavation team members will return the site to as pristine shape as possible, and the artifacts will return to the Office of the State Archeologist for studying.

Kendall said this site, while unique and rare, is one of some 40,000 known archeological sites throughout Iowa.

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