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June 21, 2014 10:00 PM

Wind Cave Archaeological Team Has Soft Touch On Resources

Hot Springs, SD

There's an important archaeological dig under way in Wind Cave National Park that doesn't involve all that much digging.

A National Park Service team relies on equipment that reads magnetic variations in the ground to detect archaeological resources beneath the surface. That limits ground disturbance and leave most archaeological resources where they are, while allowing the team to focus on key areas with a light environmental touch.

"You can sort of look into the ground without actually having to dig," NPS archaeologist Anne Vawser, who works out of the Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, said. "And of course with an archaeological site, we can't make it again. We can't renew it. It's not like a wetland. You can't renew an archaeological site. Once you dig it up you've destroyed it."

Neither the archaeological team nor Wind Cave officials want to do much of that. But they do want to know more about the site, including the cliff where indigenous hunters drove bison to their deaths thousands of years ago. It's part of the old Sanson Ranch that the park service acquired several years ago and is now planning to open to limited public use.

Some of the limits will be established to protect archaeological sites.

"We want to have people come out and experience and enjoy it and learn from it," Vawser said. "We also need to know where as much of the material is as possible so we can protect it."

The work is done under the eyes of tribal monitors there to watch for sensitive cultural resources.  It is part of an environmental assessment prior to the development of trails, a parking lot and informational sites. There is limited digging, focused on areas where learning opportunities are high and damage limited.

Wind Cave officials will be offering free weekly tours of the buffalo jump area on the old Sanson Ranch north of Hot Springs. The tours begin this Saturday and run each Saturday through Aug. 2.  Participants this week will be able to visit the archeology dig in progress.

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