The Nebraska Highway Archeology Program—Rescuing Important Historical Information in the Path of Road Building Since 1959

What does archaeology have to do with highways? Are we digging up ruins of hold highways? Why would anyone do that? Highway archaeology is about identifying important archaeological sites, bridges, and historic buildings prior to road construction. It’s a cooperative relationship between two sets for professionals that you might think would be at odds. We need roads, and it’s the job of the Nebraska Department of Roads to build and maintain them. But doing so can impact sites that reveal the secrets of Nebraska’s past. Important information can be lost forever.

This became a big deal in the 1950s during the planning stages of Interstate 80. People had concerns over impacts to Native American burials and Oregon Trail remnants. In response, the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska State Historical Society created the Nebraska Highway Archaeology Program (NHAP) in 1959. Over nearly six decades, NSHS archaeologists and historic architects have identified hundreds of sites. Dozens of these have become the focus of major field investigations and research projects. The program also provides public outreach programs and volunteer opportunities in the field and the laboratory. It has allowed many University of Nebraska-Lincoln archaeology students to gain practical experience.

Highway archaeology has made significant contributions to understanding all aspects of Nebraska’s past, from early Native American hunter-gatherers and farmers, to post-contact tribes, to Euro-American explorers and settlers.*   — Rob Bozell, (former) Associate Director and Archaeologist, Nebraska State Historical Society *This blog post is the first in a series, so come back for more information about these subjects!

 

In the 1960s, highway archeologists worked hard to recover important information from archeological sites shortly before it is lost permanently. Today’s staff has traded in the pith helmets and ‘safari shorts’ for orange hard hats and safety vests.

Later the same summer, the same UN-L crew excavated another Native American lodge discovered before construction of the Mahoney State Park I-80 Interchange between Lincoln and Omaha. The three students mapping are all still archeologists today working for various government agencies.

In 1989, Society highway archeologists were assisted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archeological Fieldschool in excavating and mapping a 700 year old Native American lodge in Butler County. The high spot where the lodge was buried was taken for highway construction fill dirt only moments after the UNL team finished final mapping.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Making Rain

Making Rain

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

How pioneer trails shaped Omaha streets

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.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

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.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

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.