Very little is known about the archaeology of Olmsted County. There has never been a professional excavation or a county-wide survey conducted within our borders. Fortunately, the History Center houses and preserves artifact collections that can tell us about the rich history of Olmsted County. Two impressive archaeological collections – the Peck Collection and the Schumann Cache – offer us a glimpse of just how active our county has been for millennia.
The Peck Collection
John Peck – civic leader, farmer, and a lumberyard manager – lived in nearby Stewartville. He moved to Stewartville in 1893, quickly becoming known as a collector of archaeological artifacts and geological specimens. Soon he amassed an impressive collection.
The Peck Collection’s importance to the History Center is due to the fact most of the archaeological artifacts have been found inside Olmsted County. They represent physical reminders of our county’s long history.
Most of the Peck Collection consists of ground stone tools. Ground stone technology was a labor intensive process that involved taking a chunk of hard igneous rock, and pecking it until it a desired shape was formed.
The rough stone was then ground or sanded with another coarse stone, such as sandstone. This method would have required an amazing amount of patience and skill, and the results included extremely sturdy tools that could used for a variety of tasks, such as chopping wood or mining stone. Some ground stone tools, such as axes and hammers, were grooved so that they could be hafted or bound to a handle. Other artifacts, such as celts, were smaller woodworking tools. They do not have a groove, but were attached to a handle at its base.
Due to the fact that the artifacts in the Peck Collection were found on the surface, accurate dating remains a challenge. However, the grooved hammer and axe pictured are most likely from the Archaic Tradition, dated from 8,000 B.C to 500 B.C., while the celt most likely dates from the Woodland Tradition, dated from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1200. In addition to the ground stone tools, the Peck Collection also has many other interesting artifacts, such as copper spear points from the Old Copper Phase, dated from 3,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. and chipped stone hoes, probably made sometime after A.D. 1,000. Taken together, the Peck Collection represents thousands of years of activity and changing technology for Olmsted County.
The Schumann Cache
Almost seventy years ago, Adolf Schumann, well into a long day of plowing a field on his family farm in Eyota, discovered something exciting on a small rise near the Middle Fork of the Whitewater River. Close to the surface, and in a very compact area, Adolf Schumann found what may be one of the more important findings in the county, and possibly, southeastern Minnesota.
What he found was a cache of stones most likely collected and stored by Paleo-Indians at some time between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. That day, Adolf collected what he could carry and took them back to the house that night. After showing his younger brother, Alfred Schumann, Alfred later went back to the spot to collect all that he could find.
The Schumann Cache contains a total of 65 pieces of silicified sandstone, or “sugar quartz”. Of these 65 pieces, one is a blade, 22 are what are referred to by archaeologists as bifaces, or tool blanks that have been flaked on both sides and faces. The remaining 41 pieces consist of the stone flakes removed from the bifaces.
Alfred Schumann had the collection in his possession until the 1960s, when he read an article in a local paper stating Olmsted County was never inhabited by Native Americans. This prompted him to share his collection and generously donate it to the History Center.
The Schumann Cache is an important collection for a number of reasons. First, the age of the cache is most likely very old, and may represent a collection that was collected and stored by some of the earliest Olmsted County travelers. Second, “sugar quartz” was an important material for the Paleo-Indians. Finally, a cache of this material, which probably came from west-central and southwestern Wisconsin, has never been found this far west. The Schumann Cache generates a lot of questions. Why did someone haul this material all the way from Wisconsin? Where were they going? Why did they decide to bury the stones where they did, and why did they never come back to retrieve them? Some of these questions remain unanswerable, but it is useful to imagine some of this region’s earliest inhabitants trekking across Olmsted County so many years ago. The fact that these stones, found by an Eyota farmer, can expand our knowledge of Native Americans in southeastern Minnesota, is quite remarkable.