THE GRAND MEADOW CHERT QUARRY – Wanhi Yukan
Archaeological and Cultural Preserve
Mower County is home to a very special archaeological site, which is only recently coming into public view. The Grand Meadow Chert Quarry Archaeological and Cultural Preserve, located northwest of Grand Meadow, is 8 acres of undisturbed oak savanna and 5 acres of restored prairie that had a unique role in Native American history. Among the scattered trees are 100 ‘chert’ quarry pits, large holes left just as they were when dug by Native Americans seeking stone for making tools, between 400 and 3,000 years ago. The quarry pits are clearly visible in this photo above, made by using a technique called ‘Lidar‘ that removes the vegetation from the image.
The original pitted landscape covered nearly 200 acres, with at least 2,000 of these quarry pits. This small remnant, preserved in a wooded lot over the past century by the Maurice and Bernice Thorsen family, is now owned and protected by The Archaeological Conservancy. Management of the site is the responsibility of the Mower County Historical Society and the Prairie Island Indian Community, with environmental assistance from the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District and staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Grand Meadow Chert is a type of high-quality stone, like ‘flint,’ that was used by ancestors of today’s Dakota-speaking people. They relied on this chert to make the chipped stone tools needed for daily living, including knives, hide scrapers, awls, punches, spear points and arrowheads. The earliest known use of the stone from this chert quarry is a spear point used to kill a buffalo at Granite Falls, MN nearly 8,000 years ago. This easily-recognized gray chert has been found by archaeologists at Precontact cultural sites in 52 counties in the state, and in Iowa and Wisconsin.
For many years no one knew where the gray chert seen in so many excavations at ancient villages came from. Then in 1980 a local expert rock collector, Maynard Green, introduced the site to a team of archaeologists from the Minnesota Historical Society. The team confirmed Mr. Green’s astute interpretations, and the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry was officially recorded and later added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The leader of that research team, archaeologist Tom Trow, is now working with the MCHS staff and the Indigenous descendants of those who dug these pits to open the site to public. A walking trail, with signage in both English and Dakota as part of a self-guided tour, will be opened to the public in 2024 – thanks in part to two grants from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Legacy funds and to our many community partners and generous donors.
Meanwhile, MCHS acquired from Maynard Green’s family his invaluable collection of artifacts, all found in Mower County over his lifetime. We are preserving and protecting those materials, and making them available for researchers. Thanks to his family and to our supporters, you can see those artifacts on display at our main building in Austin. The exhibit highlights the Quarry and puts it in the context of Native American history in southern Minnesota over thousands of years.
To plan a visit to the exhibit or to ask about educational tours of the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry for schools and colleges, please contact MCHS staff by calling 507-437-6082.
To learn more about Grand Meadow Chert, click on the following video below provided by the Minnesota Archaeological Society.
The Grand Meadow Chert Quarry (GMCQ) Project
Plans are underway to improve the GMCQ site, make it accessible to the public, and add educational signage in English and Dakota. To learn more about the project, or to donate to the GMCQ Endowment Fund for Sustainability, please contact the Mower County Historical Society.
The Grand Meadow Chert Quarry / Wanhi Yukan Archaeological & Cultural Preserve Project is made possible by:
- The Archaeological Conservancy
- The Mower County Historical Society
- The Prairie Island Indian Community
Our Partners and Supporters:
- ARVIG of Grand Meadow
- Austin Audubon
- Carleton College
- Freeborn Mower Electric Cooperative
- Grand Meadow High School
- Grand Meadow Township Board
- Hamline University Center of Anthropological Services
- Jay C. Hormel Nature Center
- Izaak Walton League
- KSMQ – PBS Austin
- Minnesota Archaeological Society
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
- Minnesota Historical Society Archaeology Division
- Mower County Board of Commissioners
- Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District
- Sentence to Serve, Mower County
- St. Finbarr’s Cemetery of Grand Meadow
Our Invaluable In-Kind Contributors
- Josh Anderson
- Larry Dolphin
- Jake Froyum
- Mike Jensen
- Greg Lamp
- Pete Mattson
- James Robin
- Tom Thorsen
- Tom Trow
- Dan Wendt
- Matt Ziebell
Our Generous Individual Donors
- Clair Allen
- Mark & Connie Andrew
- Anonymous Donor, Minneapolis Foundation
- Maurice & Bernice Thorsen Trust
Published Articles on Grand Meadow Chert
The Minnesota Archaeological Society recently published three articles about Grand Meadow by Tom Trow & Dan Wendt. The full articles are available below.
The Grand Meadow Chert Quarry – copyright 2020 by the Minnesota Archaeological Society. All rights Reserved.
Grand Meadow Chert: A Distinctive and High-Quality Chert in Southeastern Minnesota – copyright 2020 by the Minnesota Archaeological Society. All rights Reserved.
Modeling Movement of Grand Meadow Chert from Quarry to Use – copyright 2020 by the Minnesota Archaeological Society. All rights Reserved.
Cultural Landscape Report
Click here to see the official Cultural Landscape Report for the Grand Meadow Chert Quarry, created in 2022 by the firm of Quinn Evans with support from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund: