October 29, 2022 | Last updated Nov 9, 2023

The Nebraska Highway Archaeology Program in Action


These layers of sand in the side of the excavation are evidence of an active floodplain and were likely deposited during individual flood episodes. It was not safe to enter the deepest layer of the pit as it began to fill with water when the target depth was reached.

Johnson did not observe any archeological materials during his time on the project, but the work is ongoing.

Find out more information about History Nebraska archeology.

Early Stage of ExcavationNSHS Archeologist Johnson with Excavation in Background

For three days in January, Highway Archeologist Nolan Johnson watched as Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) contractors dug a massive hole near Oak Creek south of Valparaiso.

As part of a NDOT project on Highway 79, an intermittent stream will be moved south of the intersection between Highway 79 and a county road. To accomplish this, two large concrete box culverts connected with an open channel are being built. The total length of the project is over 300 feet and reaches a depth of more than 25 feet in some locations. During consultation with the NDOT, the NSHS archeologist assigned to this project recommended that this location be monitored by an archeologist on staff.

The NSHS and the NDOT have worked together for nearly 60 years to ensure no significant archeological sites are damaged or destroyed during road construction. Monitoring the excavation at Oak Creek is a small part of both agencies’ continued commitment to protecting the archeological heritage of the state.  Monitoring allows archeologists to observe soils at depths they could not otherwise reach.  The location of the excavation has good potential to contain buried archeological sites based on its position between Oak Creek and the intermittent stream. This potential for buried archeology combined with the very large amount of dirt (over 9000 cubic yards) to be excavated made monitoring at the location the best option to check for archeological resources.

Johnson watched as an excavator, bulldozer, and front-end loader dug into the frozen ground. He examined the dirt as it spilled out of the equipment’s buckets to look for artifacts or other archeological materials. He also went into the hole periodically to look for artifacts on the bottom of the pit. He scraped the sides of the excavation to look for evidence of buried soils or habitation layers.


Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Why John G. Neihardt was named Nebraska Poet Laureate in 1921

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Emigrants along the Trails at Chimney Rock

Marker Monday: Easter Blizzard of 1873

Marker Monday: Easter Blizzard of 1873

About History Nebraska
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.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.