OSA Brown Bag: Of Little Archaeological Value: The Remains of the "Unknown 15"
Jan 31, 2020
700 South Clinton Street, Iowa City, IA 52240
In 1958, heavy machinery borrowing soil for the construction of Interstate 29 disturbed human remains buried on a bluff in Sioux City’s South Ravine Park. The hurried salvage excavation was punctuated by looting episodes and provoked a dispute between Reynold Ruppé (soon to be Iowa’s first State Archaeologist) and Sioux City officials over ownership of finds from the site. The recovered skeletal remains and objects were eventually divided between the Sioux City Public Museum and the University of Iowa, though all involved agreed the materials were relatively recent and “of little archaeological value.”
In the 60 years since their discovery, the human remains have been misplaced twice, and many artifacts recovered from the burial ground have gone missing. In 2018, Bioarchaeology Program Director Lara Noldner arranged for the return of the remains from Tennessee to Iowa. Thorough analysis and background research was made possible by the generous support of the Iowa Department of Transportation. This presentation will shed light on the history of the South Ravine Burial Site and the individuals whose graves inspired the children’s novel, Secret of the Unknown Fifteen.
About the Presenter:
After obtaining a BA in History and Art History from Emory University in 1996, Jennifer Mack worked as a field archaeologist for six years. From 2004-2005, she received additional training in Human Osteology at the University of West Florida. She has specialized in mortuary archaeology since 2007, and has worked for the OSA off and on since 2008. The book she co-authored with Robin Lillie, Dubuque's Forgotten Cemetery: Excavating a Nineteenth-century Burial Ground in a Twenty-first-century City, received the 2017 James Deetz book award presented by the Society for Historical Archaeology. Jennifer is currently pursuing a PhD through the University of Exeter.
About the Series:
Brown Bags at the Office of the State Archaeologist is a semi-regular series where OSA staff and guests share their research over the noon hour. Topics include individuals’ areas of interest, work in the field, and developments in archaeology and architectural history throughout Iowa and the Midwest. Guest speakers whose expertise is in other areas pertaining to archaeology or ethnohistory may be invited throughout the year as well.
These presentations are free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to engage in discussion and exchange following the presentation.
A limited number of metered parking spots are available in the OSA parking lot. The remainder of the parking lot is for permit holders only.
Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa–sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact in advance at