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Menoken Village


Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. Important among these are sites that help interpret the prehistory of early civilizations. The inhabitants of what is now North Dakota left their marks upon the land as hunter-gathering societies transitioned to hunter-gardening. Non nomadic cultures required a sustainable food source involving maize, beans, sunflowers and squash. The bark and skin dwellings associated with nomadic cultures were replaced with more substantial structures in the form of earth-covered houses.

Along Apple Creek in central Burleigh County, lies the Menoken Village, which dates from approximately 1200 to 1220 AD. The collapsed impressions of structures at the site provide evidence of approximately 30 oval shaped, earth-covered houses surrounded by a ditch and palisade system protecting the village. The ditch varied in width from 15 to 22 feet and was approximately five feet deep. It encircled an area of one and a half acres. Almost 700 posts were used to support a defensive wall, which may have been covered with bison hides.

The houses were 15 x 20 feet with a main ridge post supporting a roof covered with a thick layer of earth. Walls were apparently stacked sod. Hearths and storage caches were cut into the sides and floor of the house. Some houses appear to have collapsed due to fires that consumed the support structures. Among the artifacts discovered in the debris were tools and objects indicating that the rooftop may have been an activity area.

Excavations in the village discovered significant artifacts indicating that the occupants may have been involved in a trade system that spanned the continent. Obsidian, sea shells and raw copper came from long distances and were possibly obtained with trade from other tribes. Known as down-the-line trading, goods moved from tribe to tribe. Knife River flint tools manufactured at Menoken may have resulted in travel and exchange that linked people across the Plains.

The Menoken Village State Historic Site is an excellent early example of the transition onto the Plains Village lifeway. Even though it lacked signs of extensive horticulture, essentially it demonstrated a semi-permanent base of operations for a bison-based society. On this date in 1964, the Menoken Village site became a National Historic Landmark.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Source: North Dakota Archaeology Awareness- 2009 “Menoken Village” State Historical Society of North Dakota