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University of Iowa News Release


July 15, 2011

'Team Archaeology' hits the road with RAGBRAI July 23-30, highlighting Iowa's scenic byways

The University of Iowa-based Office of the State Archaeologist is sending a team of bicyclists on the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) July 23-30. During the ride and at stops on the way, the cyclist-archaeologists will share information about the state's history and archaeological resources. This year's focus is on the historic Iowa byways, which crisscross the RAGBRAI route.

The outreach is part of Iowa Archaeology Month 2011, which encourages awareness, understanding and protection of archaeological resources and heritage. Archaeology Month is sponsored by a $10,000 grant from Humanities Iowa, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"Historic byways have served as routes of migration, communication and commerce from the footpaths created by Iowa's earliest residents to the modern Interstate highway," said Lynn Alex, education and outreach director for the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA).

"Features like the Mormon Handcart Trail, Underground Railroad, Lincoln Highway, and even modern scenic byways reflect important, often tumultuous historic events. Archaeological sites, maps, documents and oral tradition provide important clues that help us understand these events."

Participating in RAGBRAI for the fourth consecutive year, Team Archaeology consists of five riders from the OSA. In addition, the office will host outreach booths at the RAGBRAI EXPO in Glenwood on July 23, in Lewis on July 24, and near the blacksmith shop in Homestead on July 29. This year's booths and brochures feature scenic byway initiatives that the OSA is working with two resource conservation and development groups – Iowa Valley and Golden Hills – to promote.

As they ride, the OSA team will wear green and orange "Team Iowa Archaeology" jerseys and will encourage other riders to ask questions about the state's past, or just about archaeology in general.

The following is a sample of archaeological topics the team will discuss along the way:

--DAY 1 (Glenwood to Atlantic): One thousand years ago, farmers built hundreds of earth lodges near the present-day town of Glenwood. Located at the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers, they're the only ones of their kind in Iowa. The Loess Hills National Scenic Byway features a unique geological formation made of windblown soils deposited in the last ice age. The natural wonder extends 200 miles. The Hitchcock House, near Lewis, was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

--DAY 2 (Atlantic to Carroll): The OSA is a consultant for the 4,300-acre Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, which is establishing 30 miles of sustainable soft trails for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. Just outside Atlantic is the Mehaffey site, where more than 50 archaeological features such as fire pits and roasting hearths from the late archaic period were discovered.

--DAY 3 (Carroll to Boone): Built in 1913-15, the Lincoln Highway was America's first transcontinental highway. It spanned 472 miles in Iowa, from Council Bluffs to Clinton, and most of that stretch is still driveable. It became a heritage byway in 2006. Cyclists will come into contact with the historic roadway in Carroll and in Boone. The Boone River is named for Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone. Iowa's Dragoon Trail follows the Des Moines River and is named for a regiment of cavalry soldiers, led by Nathan Boone, who scouted, patrolled and mapped land that became Iowa.

--DAY 4 (Boone to Altoona): The Saylorville Dam, 11 miles up the Des Moines River from the state's capitol city, was approved by Congress in 1958. Surveys have revealed nearly 700 archaeological sites in the area, including 17 burial mounds.

--DAY 5 (Altoona to Grinnell): Grinnell features prairie school architecture from the early 1900s, including its Merchants National Bank and the Benjamin J. Ricker house. Dozens of Iowa communities have participated in the state's Main Street Iowa program, using historic preservation to revitalize communities and drive economic growth.

--DAY 6 (Grinnell to Coralville): The 77-mile Iowa Valley Scenic Byway connects the national historic landmark villages of the Amana Colonies to the only remaining tribally owned lands in Iowa, the Meskwaki Nation settlement. Near South Amana is the Patterson Trading Post, a center of trade with the Meskwaki villages from 1839–43. An archaeological survey of the trading post area is set for later this year. In 1875, the Amana Colonies experienced a great meteor shower. Over 800 pounds of the meteorite was recovered, and one of the largest pieces is displayed at the Amana Heritage Museum.

--DAY 7 (Coralville to Davenport): In Coralville, before the construction of the Marriott Hotel at the Iowa River Landing area, the OSA excavated a prehistoric Native American campsite with 15,000 artifacts. The former brownfield industrial area has been converted to an attractive wetland park.

More than 25,000 archaeological sites have been recorded in Iowa, and archaeologists estimate that 10 times that number have yet to be discovered. Artifacts are as many as 13,000 years old and include anything made or used by humans, such as tools, weaponry, dishes, burial mounds or structures.

The state archaeologist has offered archaeology week/month events annually since 1993, and Humanities Iowa has consistently supported the efforts for more than a decade.

After RAGBRAI week, the archaeology month activities continue with displays Aug. 6 at Hooverfest in West Branch, and during the Meskwaki Powwow Aug. 11-14, on the settlement near Tama.
For more on Iowa Archaeology Month activities, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lynn Alex, Office of the State Archaeologist,, 319-384-0561; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,