Western Iowa “earthlodge” designated a National Historic Landmark
October 18th, 2012 by Ric Hanson
Iowa is now home to a newly-designated National Historic Landmark, but you can’t see it. “The Davis Oriole Earthlodge Site” is estimated to be nearly a thousand years old — and it’s buried under a few feet of Iowa soil. Jerad Getter, director of the Mills County Conservation Board, says it’s in a park, near the town of Pacific Junction. “You cannot see anything from the site,” Getter says. “It’s all underground. The common person driving by will not know what it is. It doesn’t look any different than the rest of the ground. It’s the significance that’s underground.” Getter says what’s underground was a home that was part of a village.
“An earthlodge is basically a lodge that was built above ground. It was basically built with sticks, but it had earth over it and grass was growing on top of it,” Getter says. “So it’s like a domed house.” Experts who’ve examined the site estimate it was inhabited as early as the year 900, and perhaps until the 13-hundreds. Getter says the site won’t be open to the general public. “Since it is an Historical Landmark Site, they don’t want people to know where exactly it’s at so people aren’t out there with their shovels, digging,” Getter says. “But there will be a plaque that goes up in the office here.” His office is in Pony Creek Park.
The U.S. Department of the Interior describes “The Davis Oriole Earthlodge Site” as an outstanding example of the “physical features of lodge habitations” that were built across the Great Plains. The National Park Service will now work with local officials to develop a plan for preserving the site. An aboveground replica of the Earthlodge has been built in nearby Glenwood, across the street from the Mills County Museum. Artifacts collected in the area by an amateur archeologist are on display at the museum.
At the time the now-buried Davis Oriole Earthlodge Site was constructed, archaeologists say a group of Native Americans were living on the east and west sides of the Missouri River basin, constructing hundreds of earthlodges that were part of thriving communities where farming and buffalo hunting were the main occupations.