Part of the ancient chert mine site used by Native Americans more than 8,000 years ago is shown by this drone image taken in fall 2020 near Grand Meadow.

Historical Society gets grant for Mower County archaeological site

MCHS, collaborators work on opening place to public, students

For more than 8,000 years, Native Americans extracted a rare stone from the northeast part of today’s Mower County to use for creating arrowheads and other tools.

Now the Mower County Historical Society in Austin is launching a multi-year project to develop the archaeological site known as the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry thanks to a $59,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

This is the largest grant ever awarded to the Mower County Historical Society, which is collaborating on the project with The Archaeological Conservancy — a national group focused on preserving important sites — and the Dakota Community at Prairie Island, Minn.

“We are very excited to be working on this unique and important site with great partner organizations,” said Randal J. Forster, executive director for the Mower County Historical Society. “There’s a lot of positive energy with everyone involved from the local to national levels.”

With the grant, the Mower County Historical Society will make the ancient Native American quarry available to the public and student visits in 2022, in the form of a self- guided, educational tour along a walking path.

“By working in partnership with the native Dakota historical experts at Prairie Island and with archaeologists and geologists, we can be confident that we will accurately and respectfully discover and share what happened at this extraordinary place,” Forster said.

The Grand Meadow Quarry is the only known source for a particular type of “chert,” the stone used by Native Americans to make most of their everyday tools, including spear points, arrowheads, knives and scrapers.

Chert is a hard stone valued for its ability to make a sharp edge, and this particular gray chert is now known by archaeologists as “Grand Meadow Chert.” It is one of only 20 kinds of chert from Minnesota, and it’s the only one that was acquired by digging pits by hand to reach a layer of the prized stone.

“The open-pit mining technologies used at the Grand Meadow Quarry are impressive when you realize that they dug with tools made only of stone, wood, antler and bone,” said archaeologist Tom Trow, who is coordinating the project. “This is one of Minnesota’s most-important archaeological sites, and it deserves to be much better understood and much better known.”

Grand Meadow Chert was used throughout Minnesota and has been found at sites in 52 counties, dating back to at least 6,000 B.C. when a spear point made of this chert is known to have killed a buffalo near Granite Falls, Minn.

This chert particularly became important after 1200 A.D. to the ancestors of today’s Dakota people, who appear to have visited the Grand Meadow Quarry often to renew their chert supplies.

“Eight hundred years ago these Dakota relatives were living in large agricultural villages near present-day Mankato and Red Wing,” Trow said, “and with the quarry midway between those areas, it’s very likely that they met here often, possibly annually.”

An exhibit on the Grand Meadow Quarry and the county’s ancient history is at the Mower County Historical Society’s museum. It features photos and artifacts from the quarry, which was first rediscovered by the late Grand Meadow native Maynard Green.

Those interested in viewing the exhibit this winter will need to make an appointment by calling the historical society at (507) 437–6082.

Formed in 2007, CRWD works to reduce flooding and improve water quality on the Cedar River State Water Trail and its tributaries in southern Minnesota.

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