Iowa DOT archeology site gives school kids glimpse at the past

Lindsey on siteInvestigating the potential impact to cultural and environmental resources is a part of almost every Iowa Department of Transportation construction project. While our main task is to provide a safe and efficient transportation system, we strive to be good stewards of the land and do what we can to protect and preserve environmentally and historically sensitive areas.

One recent project investigation brought together staff from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Location and Environment, consultants of the Office of State Archeologist (OSA), and fifth and sixth graders from the Belmond-Klemme Community School to do a little research on a proposed construction site that skirts the school’s outdoor classroom.  

Brennan dig site
Iowa DOTer Brennan Dolan talks to Belmond-Klemme school students about archeology and how it relates to highway projects.

The proposed Iowa DOT project includes replacing two bridges, improving an intersection, and constructing an overflow culvert on U.S. 69 on the north side of Belmond. Right now the project is scheduled to begin construction in 2019.  In 2014, a preliminary archaeological study, required for the project, found Native American artifacts, so additional investigation is being conducted this construction season to learn more about the history of the area. 

Edgar said, “With the state’s emphasis on science, math, engineering, and technology, often referred to as STEM, we thought this would be a great way to show the kids how we use science every day in a way they might not expect. It gave use the chance to show them how the Iowa DOT unearths history during these archeology studies and protects our natural resources by studying the water, soil, and animal and plant life near the proposed highway 

John with artifact
State of Iowa archeologist John Hedden explains the types of artifacts that can be expected to be found in the area.

project.” In preparing for the project, Iowa DOT Cultural Resources Manager Brennan Dolan and John Hedden, one of OSA’s research archeologists who is working on the project with Iowa DOT staff, discussed the idea of inviting some of the Belmond-Klemme students to the site to observe the progress and ask questions about the work being done. Dolan said, “It’s not often that an archeological research site would be so accessible to these kids. We also thought it made sense to bring in Iowa DOT Wetland Biologist Lindsay Edgar to give students a broad understanding of the science we use to research, minimize, and mitigate any environmental impacts that a construction project might have.”     

Lindsay with kids
DOTer Lindsay Edgar talks to students about wetland preservation efforts.

 Edgar set up a mini-research station beside a pond near the archeological site. The students used magnifying glasses to look at flowers, grasses, and leaves found in the area. Edgar said, “During the session, we talked about basic wetland science and what elements are necessary to call an area a wetland. The kids were able to get right in and have a hands-on experience. They asked a lot of great ‘What happens when …’ questions that gave me a chance to explain what we do to lessen the environmental impact of a project.”

Dolan, in working with the archeology side of the project, said one of his first questions to the kids was “Who likes to get their hands dirty?” He said he then asked the kids if they knew how to turn getting your hands dirty into a career. The answer, of course, was the science of archeology.

“They asked good questions about the historical and cultural resources side,” said Dolan. “They had been studying ancient history and said they thought it was cool that there was ancient history right in their own outdoor classroom. They wanted to know how we can tell the age of an artifact or the soil in an area. They seemed really interested in the science that goes along with field investigations.”

Both Dolan and Edgar agree that this was a unique opportunity to not only let the kids in on what the Iowa DOT studies before a construction project can begin, but it also gave them a first-hand look at a few different science careers that they may not have realized existed.


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