Farmers, the unsung heroes of archaeology

Historical finds can be a great addition to your agritourism venture.

According to Stacy Tchorzynski, archeaologist with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, farmers plowing their fields are the most common people to find artifacts. “Farmers have made some of the most important scientific and cultural discoveries in our region,” she stated recently at the Great Lakes Expo held in Grand Rapids. Tchorzynski was speaking at a session focusing on farm heritage, agritourism and historic preservation. Her message was to encourage farmers to be aware of, document and, if appropriate, display these finds.

Skeptical about how much there is to find in Michigan? Did you know that we have the longest preserved trail of continuous mastodon footprints in the world here? In addition, over 30 mammoth and 300 mastadon skeletons have been found in Michigan. In 2015, a 15,000 year old mammoth skull was unearthed while a farmer was installing drain tile in a soybean field, so this is not trivial or ancient history. Not to say that the many arrowheads and other tools of daily living are less important. Many of those have been collected as well.

Tchorzynski clearly laid out why it’s important for farmers to become aware of the role they can play in documenting these finds:

  • Most of human history is only accessible archaeologically.
  • Archaeological sites are non-renewable and often threatened
  • Once they are destroyed, the information contained in them is forever lost.

As a farmer, you may be gatekeeper of important scientific and historical knowledge.

An artifact loses its research value once removed from its original location unless it’s properly documented, so

it’s best to leave things in place. Record and report their locations to the state archaeologist, but keep a good map of where it was found. Amateur digging will destroy a site, so if a site cannot be excavated properly then it should be left alone and protected. This includes not disclosing the location of otherwise unmarked sites.

Contrary to rumors, landowners do have rights over what is found on their property, and permission is required to remove artifacts from private land. It is also illegal to intentionally disturb human remains and associated artifacts. For more information or to confidentially report a site on your property, visit the MSHDA archaeology webpage.  

Every time you protect and report a site, you are contributing to important research on state and regional history.

The MSU Product Center, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, provides business counseling for product development, packaging and marketing strategies that will help Michigan entrepreneurs commercialize high-value, consumer–responsive food, value-added agriculture, and natural resource products. For more information, visit the MSU Product Center website or call 517-432-8750.

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