by Mark L. Anderson
Illustrations by Mary Slattery and Rick Friday
© Copyright 1998 The University of Iowa. All rights
||The Great Oasis culture was initially defined and described
on the basis of excavations conducted by Loyd Wilford during the late
1940's at the Low Village site in southwestern Minnesota. The name
Great Oasis is derived from Joseph Nicollet's description (1837) of
a large wooded area of southwest Minnesota that was protected from
prairie fires by a complex of adjoining shallow lakes. One of the
largest lakes in this region is named Great Oasis Lake and it is on
the north shore of this lake that the Low Village site exists.
The Great Oasis culture extended across a broad region of the eastern
Plains periphery including southwestern Minnesota, northeastern Nebraska,
southeast and central South Dakota and northwest and central Iowa.
Many Great Oasis sites in central Iowa are located in the valleys
of the Des Moines and the Raccoon rivers, suggesting that an extensive
population of Great Oasis people once inhabited that region. Based
on recent excavations, the "Maxwell phase" was defined to
include the Great Oasis of Central
Iowa. Extensions into central South
Dakota appear to be primarily restricted to the valley of the Missouri
River. Several Great Oasis sites have been recorded along the Missouri
and its tributaries in northeast Nebraska with one site being discovered
on the Loup River in the east-central part of the state. A sizable
amount of information regarding the Great
Oasis culture in northwest Iowa was produced as a result of studies
conducted for a proposed reservoir in the Perry Creek drainage basin,
located approximately 5 miles (8.1 km) northwest of Sioux City.
|The Great Oasis, (AD 900-1100) culture is associated with both the
terminal Late Woodland period and the Initial Middle Missouri periods.
Their subsistence system included intensive hunting, collecting, and
fishing. Excavations also revealed evidence of a diverse agricultural
system including corn, chenopodium (goosefoot), sunflower, little
barley, and sumpweed, and other indigenous species such as smartweed,
wild plum, hackberry, and walnut.
Site locations are typically on the first or second terraces along
rivers and streams, and in Minnesota can be found on shores, peninsulas,
and islands of shallow lakes. Sites contain hearths, storage/trash
pits, and large semi-subterranean house structures as evidenced by
excavations at the Broken Kettle West site (13PM25) and the Maxwell
site (13DA264). The Great Oasis settlement system may represent a
seasonal pattern characterized by concentrated winter occupations
of semi-subterranean earth lodges and dispersed summer occupations
of both flood plain farming stations and mobile hunting camps. Great
Oasis cemeteries appear to be located on hill or bluff tops away from
the living areas, although human skeletal remains are sometimes recovered
within settlement sites.
are usually comprised of chert, chalcedony, and quartzite. Projectile
points are typically triangular unnotched and side notched. Other
lithic tools are similar to those of other Late Woodland and early
Plains Village cultures. Some of the lithic raw material derives from
distant sources such as Knife River Flint from western North Dakota
and Burlington chert from southeastern Iowa suggesting developed trade
networks. This conclusion is supported by discovery at Great Oasis
sites of Lithasia and Leptoxis (formerly Anculosa) shells from the
Ohio River valley. Bone tools also occur and include needles, awls,
spatulas, quill flateners, and scapula hoes made from large mammal
|Great Oasis High Rim (left) and Wedge Lip (right).
most distinctive Great Oasis artifacts are the ceramics. They
are divided into two main wares: Great Oasis High Rim and
Great Oasis Wedge Lip. Both forms are typically well made,
globular jars with rounded bottoms and shoulders, constricted
necks, and outflaring rims. High Rims are generally parallel
sided with flattened lips. Wedge Lip rims are short and thickened
with flat lips that are steeply beveled toward the exterior.
Decorative motifs are typically restricted to the rims and
include fine trailed lines, oblique lines, elongated punctate
impressions, tool impressions, or cross-hatched trailing.
Additional motifs typically found on High Rim vessels include
triangles, diamonds, pendant triangles, trapezoids, pendant
chevrons, and occasionally upright or inverted turkey tracks,
stylized maize and tree motifs, and stylized deer motifs.
Great Oasis vessels are typically 4-6 mm thick, smoothed to
smoothed over cord marked, grit and sand tempered, and manufactured
with paddle and anvil modeling with subsequent smoothing.
The end of Great Oasis in northwest
Iowa coincides with the appearance of Mill Creek culture.
In central Iowa, sites were apparently
abandoned, and there is no subsequent occupation until
| ||1980 Exploring Iowa's Past: a Guide to Prehistoric Archaeology.
University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.|
|Anfinson, Scott F.|
| ||1997 Southwestern Minnesota Archaeology: 12,000 Years in the
Prairie Lake Region. Minnesota Prehistoric Archaeology
Series No. 14. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.|
|Henning, Dale and Elizabeth Henning|
| ||1978 Great Oasis Ceramics. In Some Studies of Minnesota Prehistoric
Ceramics, edited by A. R. Woolworth and M. A. Hall. Occasional
Publications in Minnesota Anthropology, No. 2. Minnesota
Archaeology Society, St. Paul.|
|Tiffany, Joseph A.|
| ||1983 An Overview of the Middle Missouri Tradition. In Prairie Archaeology:
Papers in Honor of David A. Baerries, edited by Guy E. Gibbon.
Publications in Anthropology, No. 3. Univeristy of Minnesota, Minneapolis.|
|Zimmerman, Larry J.|
| ||1985 Peoples of Prehistoric South Dakota. University of Nebraska Press,
Site (13WD88) Excavations 1998
(13DA264) Site Volunteer Excavation 2001
Office of the State
Posted June 7, 1999. Illustrations added August 3, 2001.
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