Raiders of the lost archaeology


Duluth Archaeology Center members rarely use bullwhips or ride camels, but they do work to uncover and protect the little-known and often-ignored archaeology of the Northland.

Located at 5910 Freemont St. in Duluth, the company was started in 2000 by Susan Mulholland, Stephen Mulholland and Jennifer Hamilton. The trio had worked together at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Archaeometry Laboratory, which has since closed.
DAC’s main work is cultural resource management. Companies, such as Minnesota Power and government entities, hire them to comply with federal and state laws regarding conducting archaeological studies before building.
The goal is to add to more history to be covered in books, instead of by concrete.
“Are you going to disturb any historic properties? How do you mitigate the effects of the impact? In many cases, there is some compromise worked out,”said Susan Mulholland.
The group also does purely academic work. Susan Mulholland’s main research interests involve the paleolithic period. She wants to know time and direction of the earliest migrations of people into the area.
Hamilton’s interests center on the ceramics of the Woodland period, 2,000 years before contact with Europeans.
And Stephen Mulholland is interested in everything.
The group also hosts a sort of “Antique Stone Show.” Upon request, it will examine the public’s artifacts, free of charge.
“Bring in your artifacts. You’re not at any risk of losing what you have. We just want to know what you have, where it came from, so we can add that to our wealth of knowledge of this area and get a dot on a map and data,” Hamilton said.
Unfortunately, they sometimes have to “rock somebody’s world” when their “arrowhead” turns out to be just a stone.
Their cultural resource management work has saved history. While the three were still working at UMD, St. Louis County was redoing the road to Fish Lake Reservoir, on Minnesota Power land. They were informed the county was unknowingly bulldozing over an archeological site. Stephen Mulholland went out to the site and found artifacts lying where the bulldozers had been.
“So I called the Minnesota Power people and said, ‘Hey, we have a situation out there. The county did this and they disturbed part of the archeological site, and it’s a big site’,” Susan Mulholland said.
This led to many digs, which discovered and saved artifacts. With funds from the Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Power, and help from a large group of UMD volunteers, they were able to collect many items.
After the construction crew learned of the situation, they were very helpful. At one point, the crew suggested they scrape a foot and a half of dirt into a pile that could be screened for artifacts.
“It’s one of the rare times that we had a line of volunteers with screens, and we were screening this big bulldozed pile,” Hamilton said.
According to Stephen Mulholland, archeology in this area was largely ignored until the past 25 years — and sometimes their academic peers have thrown mud at digging in the Northland.
“I was at a talk once and a presenter looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘There’s no archeology north of Hinckley,’” said Susan Mulholland, adding that if she hadn’t been sick, she would have set him straight.
“That is the great thing about up here. We don’t know a whole lot. Much of the state has been plowed, but up here we have a whole lot of vegetation … So it is harder to find buried sites. But, if you find them, they are more likely to be in good shape,” Susan Mulholland said.
These “Raiders of the Lost Archeology” promote their underground movement, with public outreach.
DAC runs events with the Northern Lakes Archaeological Society, which has monthly presentations September through May. NLAS events are promoted through DAC’s webpage and Facebook page, by email. DAC also helps organize NLAS events, including the annual archaeology festival at the Glensheen Mansion.
DAC hosts three to four summer presentations a year at the Boulder Lake Environmental Center. Last year, the group hosted a junior archaeology program at Duluth libraries, involving sandbox archaeology.
Upon request, DAC will speak at schools.
“We do want to get the message out that archaeology does exist and it’s here in Northern Minnesota,” said Hamilton.
For more information about DAC and NLAS visit and the Duluth Archaeology Center’s Facebook page. Email DAC at to ask to be notified of upcoming DAC and NLAS events.