Excavations at 13DK9, the Abbie Gardner Sharp Historic Cabin Site
Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The 2023 Iowa Lakeside Laboratory archaeological field school continued exploratory excavations at 13DK9, the Abbie Gardner Sharp Historic Cabin Site located in Arnolds Park, Iowa, on the shores of West Okoboji Lake. As with the 2022 field school, there were seven participants during the four-week program. In 2023, nine additional participants worked at the site through an arrangement with the Sanford Museum, Cherokee, Iowa. These participants were on-site for a total of seven days of excavation.

The combined efforts of the Lakeside and Sanford participants resulted in 21 m2 of excavation being completed, with eight 1 x 1 m units distributed across the open green space in the block east of Monument Drive and north of the city shelter and 11 similar sized units distributed primarily in the open area east of the interpretive center and north of the monument. Two 1 x 1 m units were placed flanking an artifact-dense unit dug in 2022 west of the cabin and north of the interpretive center to explore whether the deposit found the previous year dating to 1891-1921 was in fact a trench. It turns out the deposit was a pit, with very little additional material found to either side. This makes the discovery rather fortuitous and shows—at least in this instance—the efficacy of the electrical resistivity data collected before excavation began last year. Many thanks to Prof. Colin Betts (Luther College) and his students for their assistance with geophysical investigations.

A stone arrow point was recovered from the unit immediately north of this pit but unfortunately in disturbed context (that is, it had been dug up and redeposited more than a century ago, probably without the digger knowing it was there). The point type conforms well to a known archaeological type (Koster) that dates to approximately 1,500 years ago, reinforcing that this landform was well known to the Indigenous ancestors of the region. Additional related evidence was found in the open area 10-20 m north of the monument where several clusters of large stones—probably dispersed rock ovens—and a few flakes from stone tool making were discovered buried approximately 30-50 cm (at the contact between the A and B soil horizons) below the current surface. While no dateable charcoal or artifacts were recovered, these features suggest precontact Indigenous habitation and will be the focus of additional exploration in 2024.

Otherwise, as expected, almost all excavated units in the block west of Monument Drive revealed at least a few items related to Abbie’s activities during the 1891-1921 period when she ran the cabin as one of Iowa’s earliest heritage tourism destinations. All eight units located east of Monument Drive yielded exclusively materials that appear to date to the 1920-1950 era from when small lake cottages occupied the landscape here prior to it becoming open parkland. As was the case in 2022, very few items dating to the early 1800s up to the 1860s were discovered, with a single native-made gunflint of Knife River Flint recovered in 2022 remaining the most likely artifact that might be related to Wahpekute or other Dakota occupation of the area. Artifact cataloging for the 2023 season continues, so there may yet be other discoveries to report.