The Chadron State Park Site

The theme of Archeology Month 2021 is Archeology in Nebraska State Parks. While Ft. Atkinson and Ft. Robinson have seen the most archeological work, we start in Nebraska’s oldest park: Chadron State Park.

In 1940 workers at the park uncovered Native American artifacts while working on the foundation of a new building. News of the discovery reached Asa. T. Hill, the director of the museum at the Nebraska State Historical Society, now History Nebraska. Mr. Hill and two assistants spent nine days excavating a portion of the site. The archeological site was designated 25DW1 the Chadron State Park Site. The excavation at the site was hurried due to its salvage nature and the artifact collection went unreported until the 2010s when then Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office Archeologist Terry Steinacher analyzed the artifacts and excavation notes (Steinacher 2014).

At the site were the remains of an earthlodge and several storage pits. Some of the storage pits were excavated into the wall of the earthlodge and must date to a time after it had been abandoned. The stakes in the photo below outline the earthlodge after the excavators had identified it from the dark circular stain in the lighter subsoil.


Chadron State Park 25DW1-5

Chadron State Park 25DW1-5


Large amount of bone, much of it bison, were found as evident from some site photos, but most of those bones were not kept. Only bone with human modifications was returned to Lincoln for future study. The modified bone collection includes: awls, bison scapula tools, a bison ulna digging tool, a shaft wrench, a bone fish hook, bone and antler beads, and miscellaneous fragments that show some sort of modification. Perhaps the most striking find at the site was a bison rib handle and associated knife blade. The pair were not found fitted together, but the field notes refer to the artifacts as being found “in the same fill” (Steinacher 2014:69) and they do fit together nicely.


Chadron State Park 25DW1

Chadron State Park CPA 14-6

Fish Hook and Beads

Chadron State Park CPA14-3

Bone Handle and Stone Knife Blade


Other artifacts from the site include stone tools and ceramics. Projectile points are missing from the artifact collection and were likely picked up by locals before Mr. Hill got to the site. The other stone tools include: bifaces, scrapers, cores, retouched flakes, ground stone tools, and unmodified flakes. These are all fairly typical of habitation sites.

The ceramic collection at the site is a bit of a mystery. It is a large collection for such a short excavation. The ceramics include over 1500 body sherds and 125 rim sherds. The ceramics are mostly homogeneous and appear to have been made by one group of potters. A few of the body sherds have pairs of holes drilled through them. This is commonly thought of as a way to tie together a cracked pot.  The interesting fact is that the collection shows a blending of traits from the earlier Woodland tradition and later Central Plains tradition. Due to the lack of specific provenience for the artifacts it is not known if 25DW1 represents separate Woodland and Central Plains tradition occupations or some blending of the two. Future work on similar sites, currently undiscovered or unreported, may be able to answer this question.



Steinacher, Terry

2014 The Chadron State Park Site (25DW1) Dawes County, Nebraska. Central Plains Archeology 14:65-128

Chadron State Park CPA14-2

Chadron State Park gst

Ground Stone Tools

Chadron State Park CPA 14-5

Reconstructed Pot

Chadron State Park CPA 14-3

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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