Background And History
The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a six-acre site overlooking the west bank of Lake Mitchell. It holds dual status as a National Register and National Historic Landmark site. More than 1,000 years ago, it was a thriving village inhabited by a people who, over the centuries, had been migrating from the Central Valley of Mexico north through the river systems of North America. They arrived at the Mitchell site in the mid-tenth century. The site is extremely rich in clues about these early villagers and their environment. The people were farmers and hunters and used the fertile ground in the Firesteel Creek River bottom to produce corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco. The women tended the crops while the men hunted a range of large and small animals, relying primarily on bison. They also fished extensively along Firesteel Creek and the James River. Ultimately, the people who lived at the site--and at other prehistoric villages along the James River drainage--depleted their immediate resources of timber and game animals. They then moved further west, settling along the Missouri River.
A Dakota Wesleyan student made the discovery of human activity at the Mitchell site around 1910. In 1922, W.H. Over created the first map of the village site. The site was city property until 1975, when a nonprofit organization was created to preserve the site from the degradation that had been occurring over the decades. Shortly thereafter, the Indian Village was declared a National Historic Landmark. This designation alone tells the public that there is something of great significance at this location.
In 1983 the Boehnen Memorial Museum and gift shop was constructed on the site. It contains a reconstructed earth lodge, typical of the approximately 70 of these 20- by 40-foot lodges which have been buried over the centuries. Other exhibits describe extensive trade networks, pottery, tools, and spearpoints. There is a bison exhibit and a model of the Indian Village. A student research library will be added during the winter of 2011/12. The archeology laboratory at Augustana College in Sioux Falls was involved in creating the museum exhibits. It continues today as the principal organization responsible for conducting and managing all archeological work at the Indian Village. The work will continue for decades, until the lodges are completely excavated.
In 1999 a second facility was added to the site. The Thomsen Center Archeodome is a 10,000 square-foot building that encloses two full lodges on its exposed earthen floor. It includes a full laboratory, darkroom, computer classroom, and video conferencing studio. The site is the only preserved protected archaeological site open to the public in the state of South Dakota. The Archeodome provides an opportunity for an enclosed archaeological teaching and research facility—one of very few such facilities in North America.
The Indian Village is developing additional avenues to link the past to the present, creating a destination where visitors can discover and experience past- and present-day Native people. At the same time, the Indian Village advances important archaeological educational and research goals. It will be a place where art and crafts made by South Dakota's Native American community may be purchased year-round. It will be a place where South Dakota's Native American culture, people, art, food, music, and dance can be showcased and appreciated—helping build bridges between Native and non-Native people of the area.