The Minnesota Historical Society’s archaeology collections contain more than 950,000 artifacts dating from about 11,500 years ago to the present.
Artifacts are acquired through excavation, surface survey, and underwater recovery techniques in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, portions of Canada, and through donations from private collections. MNHS also serves as the repository for archaeological discoveries made on Minnesota public land by designation of the state archaeologist. Together these materials make up nearly 4,000 distinct collections, each representing a particular excavation or survey.
Archaeological collections constitute the historical record of long-ago Minnesota. For the more recent past, archaeological findings provide knowledge of architectural detail as well as living conditions and daily lifestyles not available from other sources. Some examples of our holdings:
- Archaeologists working at the Bradbury Brook site near Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota found more than 125,000 artifacts, including stone tools, dating to 9220 BP (Before Present), making it the earliest dated excavated site in Minnesota.
- The Old Copper Complex of the Lake-Forest Archaic period, dating from 6000 to 3000 BP, comes to life through a group of spear points, awls, knives, and other copper items collected in the 19th century by The Rev. Edward C. Mitchell.
- Materials recovered from the Grand Portage National Monument tell us about the French and British fur trade, which thrived between about 1680 and 1816.
- Excavations at US Army post Fort Snelling (aimed at collecting data to assist in the reconstruction/restoration of the 1825 era of the fort), which was active between 1819 and 1946, turned up an eagle insignia as well as animal and fish bones. This evidence of the soldiers’ diets provides a more complete picture of life at the fort.
- Artifacts from excavations of the milling district near St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River reveal Minnesota’s rich industrial history.
These archaeological collections present exciting research opportunities as MNHS's holdings continue to grow and new methods of analysis provide fresh perspectives. Learn more about the curation of archaeology collections.
Searching the collection
Archaeological materials and records are available for further study.
Archaeology collection records (card catalogs, reference files, and electronic records) are kept in the collections department and most may be printed or copied for a fee. The collections department also provides photographic services for a fee, depending on restrictions and use. All services are arranged with the department and charges calculated at the time of order or service. Orders for copy services are not available online. Please refer to the copy services price list for a current listing of fees and services.