Chesterton Tribune

Archaeological dig at Collier Lodge/Baums Bridge topic of DHS meeting

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Typically, when one thinks about archaeology, the visualization is about uncovering pyramids, ancient cities like Rome, or the Holy Land - or dinosaurs. However, more and more Hoosiers, as well as scientists around the world, are learning that Porter County has one of the “newest” treasured archaeological digs with relics from as late as the 1920s to as old as 8000 B.C.

John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, recently shared information about the treasures being dug up around the historic hunting lodge known as Collier Lodge located along the Kankakee River near Baum’s Bridge.

“There is so much history on this one acre!”, Hodson said about the small section of the 150 acres he owns in the southern part of Porter County as he gave his presentation to the Duneland Historical Society.

The dig is located next to Collier’s Lodge, itself an historic building which had been used in the 1800s by U.S. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland.

Hodson first showed a DVD about the archaeological dig, then answered questions from the audience - which could have lasted several hours because of the endless curiosity displayed by the group gathered at the Library Service Center.

“For me, this is all about education,” Hodson said about his part in the experience. All of the artifacts are donated to the University of Notre Dame to be researched and archived.

In 2003, Hodson initially contacted Dr. Mark Schurr, who teaches at ND, to learn what treasures he had.

“It was like an artifact road show,” Schurr said in the DVD. Among the items were chipstone tools estimated at 1,100 years old and pottery.

According to Hodson, Schurr came out to the site and within two hours collected 214 artifacts.

In 2004, Schurr began a field study dig with his students and volunteers. The dig lasted for 12 days and Schurr has continued the dig, for 12 days each year until two years ago.

He no longer can use it as a field study class, but volunteers have enthusiastically offered help to continue the study. Scientists from around the world have participated.

On the first day of the dig, participants waited patiently under a modern day canopy until the downpour of rain subsided, so they could begin.

The sun finally did come out and they carefully scraped off the first layer of dirt from a section measuring one meter in length by a half meter in width. The dirt was then dumped onto a sieve where volunteers used their hands to push the dirt through the sieve. The debris that stayed on top of the sieve was later washed and cleaned.

“If you’re not sure whether to keep it or not, keep it,” Schurr told his helpers, adding that the value would be determined later.

Schurr talked about how in the 1800s Pottawattomi Indians or settlers used this spot. Pottery from England dating back to 1835, blue transfer print pearlware of the 1820s brush design transfer painting, crockery used for storage, and pottery from the Removal Period have been discovered here. A ceramic door knob of 1860 vintage also was uncovered.

In the DVD a woman demonstrates how a clay pot is reconstructed from a shell find. The pot  was made one day and used for cooking the next day, she said. Various pottery pieces have been found that were made during different centuries. They are identified by the minerals in the clay, decorations and designs. Some clay was fired in ovens, others, naturally dried as the woman demonstrated, still other  pieces are signed and some is Stafordshire.

Square nails common until 1890 have been found, Schurr said, showing the difference from nails used today. The hammer of a flint gun and a very large fishing hook are among the many items catalogued for further research.

A Union metal company shell was fired sometime between 1867-1911, he said.

Collected artifacts show the acre in 1679 was probably used by French fur traders for a campsite. Trade goods items, axes made by blacksmiths and pieces of pottery have been dug up and labeled. (Volunteers are taught how to catalogue each item).

Glass, obsidian thought to be from Yellowstone, and arrow points were all there. The larger arrow points are older, he explained. The smaller ones were made from the larger ones found after they were used.

There are about 20 individual archeological digs there to date. The deepest site is 14 levels deep. Each level is four inches in depth. When digging, the participants were told to not mix the different kinds of dirt found in each level.

To date a portion of a foundation of a cabin has been uncovered. Also, in no particular order according to levels, two pre-historic finds dating back to 8000 BC, have been uncovered. One was a jawbone. A lot of bones of fur bearing animals and many fresh water shells have been catalogued.

An area that had not been excavated when this DVD was made, but was pointed out by Schurr was where the privy had been located. The area was the same during more than one generation.

Some very large rocks were uncovered, which had to have been brought to this spot, Schurr said. Members of the audience guessed it might have been the site of a sweat-lodge.

Some pennies were found, apparently dropped from a pocket, or money bag. Schurr said they might have been used to pay for crossing the river in a ferry before Baum’s Bridge was built.

After the presentation, Hodson told the Chesterton Tribune he estimates the dig will continue for 250 years to uncover all that is at the site.

He said what is unique here is that they are finding relics of all ages close to the surface.

They have been mixed up by generation after generation, century by century.

 To learn more about the dig, visit

Also, visit the Aukiki River Festival, which provides visitors a sample of how archaeologists work on a site and demonstrations of what it was like from the 1700s-1920s at that site.

 For those who would like to volunteer to be a part of the dig, contact the Kankakee Valley Historical Society at 766-2302 or at the website.


Posted 11/24/2008