Monday, January 17, 2011

Culture thrived on future Iowa soil

About 800 years ago, an American Indian culture was concentrated in the Loess Hills near here.

Little is known about the people of what archaeologists call the Glenwood culture. They dwelled in earth lodges, lived on both sides of the Missouri River, and sometime around 1300 A.D. left — possibly being absorbed by the Pawnee or other tribes.

But two new grants from the Iowa Department of Transportation may help scholars and archaeologists learn more about the Glenwood culture people.

The Iowa Transportation Commission this week approved $5.1 million for 14 statewide projects under its Transportation Enhancement program.

More than $1 million is for projects relating to the Glenwood culture, allotted under the agency’s “historic and archaeological” category.

Of that amount, $602,478 will go toward planning and design of a Loess Hills Archaeology Interpretive Center.

“Our intent is that this will be a tourist attraction as well as a very fine educational facility,” said Wayne Phipps, president of the Loess Hills Archaeology Interpretive Center Committee. “This is going to be a big deal.”

Phipps envisions something similar to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Ill., possibly to include a lifesize model of a Glenwood village.

“We understand that’s very expensive,” he said.

Actual construction of the interpretive center building and its displays is expected to be funded by individuals, foundations and universities.

The interpretive center is planned on five to seven acres of land known as Foothills Park on the southeast corner of Levi Road and U.S. Highway 34, just south of town.

It’s part of a 917-acre preserve owned by the Department of Natural Resources, where the remains of 109 Glenwood culture sites, including earth lodges, are concentrated.

Some 400 Glenwood culture sites are catalogued in the Glenwood, Iowa, area alone, Phipps said. There also are some sites in Nebraska.

Part of the funds will go toward an archaeological survey of the Foothills area, to make sure the planned building would not be erected on burial sites, but the center would be built around anything else of archaeological significance.

The money, which comes from federal highway funds, is a great start for the interpretive center, Phipps said. It gives it legitimacy and means potential donors will take them seriously now, he added.

“That’s the kind of thing we can tell them … We are real,” he said.

A second grant, $398,986 to the University of Iowa, will go toward cataloging more than 83,000 artifacts unearthed when the U.S. 34 bypass south of Glenwood was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Craig Markley, a transportation planner with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

That grant also will help create educational materials about the Glenwood culture.

Another Transportation Department grant, totaling $750,000, will be split between the Great River Road Scenic Byway in eastern Iowa and the Loess Hills Scenic Byway Protection Project in western Iowa.

How much goes to each project remains to be determined.

In the Loess Hills, the state will be using new technology to plot where the best views are and to work with landowners to get easements for scenic overlooks.

“It tells you where your highest elevations are and where your greatest differentials are, so if you have a high ridge and have a sudden dropoff, you can have an outstanding view,” Markley said.

Other western Iowa funding approved by the Department of Transportation commission this week includes:

>> $345,600 for a heavy-duty biodiesel-powered bus for the Sioux City Transit System.

>> $255,640 for four light-duty buses for the Atlantic-based region of the Southwest Iowa Transit Agency, and $37,665 for a vehicle storage facility for that region.

Nelson, Andrew J. 2011. "Culture thrived on future Iowa soil". Omaha World Herald. Posted: January 14, 2011. Available online:

Author's Contact Information: 402-444-1310,

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