Archaeologists at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse are being honored by the state transportation department after uncovering Native American artifacts and human remains during local highway construction.

UW-L’s Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center uncovered more than 30 burial sites during spring and summer construction on Hwy. 35 in Onalaska, including pieces of bone and intact human skeletons.

UW-L officials announced news Monday of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s 2012 Tribal Excellence award, which the university received for its work with the transportation department and the Ho-Chunk Nation. The Ho-Chunk are believed to be descendents of the occupants of the 400- to 700-year-old village.

“They do feel a strong sense of kinship,” MVAC archaeologist Kathy Stevenson said.

Artifacts pulled from under Hwy. 35 are the vestiges of a society that lived off the region’s ample supply of plants and wildlife. Archaeologists also found remains of elk, deer, black bear and fish.

The village likely belonged to the Oneota, whose remains have been uncovered in other sites in the La Crosse area.

Chris Dahl, a project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, supervised the Hwy. 35 construction. He doesn’t run into too many road projects that include digging up a human mandible or piece of cranium.

“It’s a juggling act,” Dahl said. “It’s just something that you have to do.”

Despite a cramped construction timeline, archaeologists were able to remove bones, soil and artifacts without slowing the work.

UW-L faculty and students are still cataloging and analyzing the discoveries.

The award signifies close collaboration between the university, the state and the region’s Native American population, Stevenson said.

“What it really captures is that experience of cooperation,” Stevenson said.

Read previous stories about the dig at lacrossetribune.com.

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