116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TODDVILLE — There’s more than what meets the eye at six sites in the Wickiup Hill Natural Area — all with a different story unique to the people who lived there thousands of years before Iowa was discovered by European-American settlers.
With a physical link to the past, a new federal recognition will help build respect for the relationship between people and places now and into the future. In March, the sites were added to the National Register of Historic Places — a goal the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has been working toward for years.
Wickiup Hill is the first archaeological site that the preservation commission has successfully added to the register and has some significance for its mostly intact archaeological finds in the state of Iowa. The site discoveries were first initiated by a survey of unincorporated Linn County land started in 1991. Work started honing in on the six selected sites in the late 1990s.
“These sites stand out in the majority of sites in Iowa,” said Leah Rogers, owner and principal investigator at Tallgrass Archaeology in Iowa City who has been studying Wickiup Hill since 1993. “These were the best of the best.”
What: Wickiup Hill Learning Center
Where: 10260 Morris Hills Rd., Toddville
Hours: The Learning Center, which houses interpretive exhibits about the archaeology of Wickiup Hill, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday; Outdoor areas are open sunrise to sunset daily
Details: The outdoor trail leading through six archaeologically significant sites is about 2.25 miles round-trip with steep hills.
When visiting any archaeological site on public land, remember to do so with respect. Removing artifacts from sites is prohibited.
Discoveries at Wickiup Hill, which include pottery shards from the same pot and projectile points from spears and arrows in the Archaic period (8500 to 800 B.C.), are rare to find with such integrity in Iowa due to the impacts of land cultivation, earth moving, erosion and flood scouring over thousands of years. The sites, part of a 751-acre site northwest of Cedar Rapids in the Cedar River Greenbelt, include four mound groups with potential burials, a late Woodland (200 B.C. to 300 A.D.) village and a middle to late Archaic period site.
Even with no written history left behind, there’s intrinsic knowledge documented about how ancient Iowans and the more recent Native Americans like the Oneota, Ioway and Meskwaki people interacted with the land — including lessons we can extrapolate about our own relationship with the land today.
“When we look back in time and see people have been living and interacting with the land since they got here, it connects us to that past,” said Kent Rector, Nature Center manager for Linn County Conservation. “For me and a lot of visitors I’ve talked to, there’s a sense of reverence and respect that comes with that and knowing these traditions have been passed down for generations.”
In realizing that, one of the greatest lessons is not taking the land for granted.
“Seeing ourselves as part of nature, not apart from nature, is the biggest take away,” he said. “We’re part of the cycle. Every action we take has a reaction and bigger consequence.”
Early inhabitants of the land now called Wickiup Hill often used the land either in the warm season or in colder weather. Some groups came back repeatedly, and sites were picked with a particular purpose with the seasons.
“The Meskwaki were living in the north half of the ravines because they had springs that didn’t freeze,” said Rogers. “The ravines were well protected areas with cold winds blowing above.”
In the spring, many would stick around to harvest from the then-abundant maple tree groves.
The Archaic period climate was warmer and drier, encouraging growth and spread of prairie vegetation into areas that had been previously wooded, Rogers said. Thinning vegetation and the denuding of hill slopes and valleys caused erosion and sand deposit movements, which helped preserve sites by burying them.
By the Late Archaic period, the climate stabilized again, allowing forests to spread with a variety of tree types.
“To be able to understand how they used Wickiup Hill is a unique opportunity in the state of Iowa,” Rogers said. “It’s a resource we don’t often have.”
“It humanizes the past and gives (visitors) a chance to identify and connect with that sense of place,” Rector said. “It allows us to relate to our visitors that we’re still creating a story today. What will future cultures think about our land relationship?”
The new historic designation also will provide protective benefits of the sites, particularly from disruptions with natural disaster recovery and highway development that involve federal funding.
“You need to know what you have so you can protect it,” said Maura Pilcher, chair of the Linn County Historical Preservation Commission. “Paths we take are often reflective of ancient paths, but you don’t have that evidence at the surface.”
Iowa has nearly 2,000 sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. See the historic survey, National Register nominations and an interactive map of sites in Linn County online at LinnCountyIowa.gov.
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