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Students to excavate Hickory Hill Park

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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The morning sun peeked through pockets of clouds above Hickory Hill Park on a brisk, peaceful Tuesday morning. This summer, the park will ring with the exploration of student anthropologists.

With the Iowa City City Council's vote of approval at its meeting Tuesday, University of Iowa anthropology students will have the opportunity to unearth artifacts from Native Americans who lived in the area thousands of years ago.

The UI Anthropology Department will hold a field class in the summer session focused on the park, which is east of Oakland Cemetery.

The class is designed to give students experience in archeology, something valuable to those interested in a career, said Associate Professor James Enloe, the department's executive officer.

The class will be led by Assistant Professor Margaret Beck with assistance from Bill Whittaker, project archaeologist at the Office of the State Archaeologist.

A UI employee discovered some artifacts in Hickory Hill Park in the 1960s, and the area was surveyed and mapped in the past, Whittaker said. But it was never formally excavated.

"I'm really looking forward to doing it," Beck said. "I'm especially looking forward to learning more about Iowa City."

Students will learn the basics of excavating, including how to use an auger to drill into the ground to collect samples.

"It'd be a great opportunity for students to learn out there and work out there," said City Councilor Terry Dickens, who lives near the park. "I walk through there on a regular basis and have found some pretty neat stuff."

UI officials said American Indians lived in the area during the Woodland period, between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

"These are people who were living by a mixture of hunting and gathering … and the beginnings of some agriculture," Enloe said.

Though officials have a good idea of who lived in the area and when, there is a lot of information to still be uncovered, Whittaker said .

"I think we're going to need a bigger collection and a bigger sample [of the site] to pin down the [exact] age of the site," he said.

Because the park belongs to the city, the university will have six months following the class to catalogue the findings before handing them back to the city, said Mike Moran, the director of city Parks and Recreation.

Officials said students will re-sod any areas that are dug up.

Unsure of where the findings would be eventually be kept, Moran said the city may sell the items back to the university.

"It's a spirit of good relations between the city and university. We want to be a good neighbor," he said.

Enloe said he is excited about the opportunity the students are getting by participating in the class.

"As an archeologist, I think it's fascinating," he said. "To get in touch with a different world, a different time, different peoples."


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