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Project Unearths the Past
By Gretchen Lehmann
January 29, 1999
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After a week of excavation work, crews at St. Cloud State University continue to find human remains and artifacts. Just last Friday, while they were at work on the university's new library, crews uncovered a collection of bones. They've since found two coffins and the remains of two young children.

It's not all that uncommon for work crews to find bones when they dig in Minnesota, but this particular discovery just may provide some insight into the state's earliest European settlers.

THE ST. CLOUD DIG SITE looks oddly like a giant-sized ant farm. It's a pit about 80 feet deep filled with mounds of sandy dirt, hollowed out pits and a well-worn trail where student workers have been hauling buckets filled with pieces of wood, rock and bone fragments. The cold and snow has made for some long work days, but there's still tremendous excitement about what might be underground.

Cobb: To me it's the same thing as looking for gold. And when you find it it's "Woah, wait, stop, o.k."
Julie Cobb is a graduate student at St. Cloud State and she has been working with four other students for the last week sifting through dirt and sand. Their work has uncovered the skull and bones of four people; all apparently early European settlers, a man, a woman and two young children.

St. Cloud State Professor Richard Rothaus is overseeing the dig. He says from core samples his crew took today, he's convinced there's more to be found.

Rothaus: Where they're working right now its relatively undisturbed and we've got some very good indications that there are some grave shafts up there, so I can't be sure. I can't see through the ground, but we're going to go with the assumption there are more graves up here.
According to the history books, what will soon be the site of the university's new library was once a Protestant cemetery. It was known as the "early cemetary" and dates back to the 1850s when the first New England settlers moved west to St. Cloud. In the mid 1860s, all the bodies were moved to Northstar Cemetary in north St. Cloud; or so it was thought.
Rothaus: Yeah, everyone was surprised, it's not supposed to be here.
These remains must have been left behind, says Rothaus, and he estimates they date back to the 1830s. Its a theory which some local historians dispute because the government didn't make the land available to settlers until the early 1850s. But Rothaus says, government rules didn't get in the way of many settlers.
Rothaus: No one's supposed to be here before that because they don't have land rights, but of course it's very common for squatters. The very first people always preceded the laws that say come on in. So, there are other records that indicate people are travelling in and out through here.
There's still a great deal of digging left to do, and Rothaus says the true age of this site may never be known. But he's confident something important will come out of the discovery at St. Cloud State.
Rothaus: If these are the earliest remains of white people in St. Cloud, we get a snapshot of the history of this city and of Minnesota that we just don't see that often. It's too early, it's too scattered. The odds of finding a cemetary that early are just phenomenal. It's just luck in that sense. I'm quite sure we will add a fair amount of knowledge of that very early history of
The first set of bones foundat the site have been sent to a lab at Hamline University for analysis. Rothaus and his students will carry out the analysis on wood and coffin fragments in their own laboratory. Barring any more discoveries, work at the site is expected to wrap up early next week.