Shall we gather at the river

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Shall we gather at the river?

Thunderbird pot
The thunderbird pot – the original Red Wing pottery. An icon of the excavations, this bird motif helps scientists interpret other, more abstract designs on pottery from the region. Found at the Bryan site in the 1960s, the pot was donated to SMM in 1978.

Photo courtesy Ed Fleming, SMM

American Indians built at least eight major villages along the Mississippi and Canon rivers, all 700 to 900 years old. The size of the villages—several hundred people each—makes the Red Wing settlement the largest in the Upper Midwest at the time. And the presence of thousands of burial mounds in the region indicates that this area held great spiritual significance. Fleming and his team are now trying to understand life in the villages.

Trash reveals the truth

To understand village life, Fleming studies “household deposits”—in other words, trash. Broken pots, discarded farming implements and other common goods paint a picture of everyday life.

Minnesota State University students and SMM volunteers
Minnesota State University students and SMM volunteers excavate the Red Wing site. In the upper left sits Dr. Ron Schirmer, project director, a professor at MSU Mankato and an SMM anthropology research associate.

Photo courtesy Ed Fleming, SMM

They also indicate an extensive trading network, connecting many far-flung regions. Archaeologists have found obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, shells from the Gulf of Mexico, copper from around Lake Superior, pottery and stone materials from the Plains, and artwork influenced by the Mississippian culture of the St. Louis region. Fleming studies this evidence to understand how Red Wing became a center of “global” trade.