Of Little Archaeological Value: The Remains of the "Unknown 15"
Mar 10, 2020
1000 Larsen Park Road, Sioux City, IA 51103
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.
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