Movie, dig spur interest in archaeology at a young age

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Jonathon Bianchi of Rogers was just 13 when he participated in his first archaeological dig in Elk River nearly a decade ago.

Photos by Joni Astrup Jonathon Bianchi dug sediment out of a test hole at Bailey Point. The dirt was then put on screens to be sifted in hopes of finding artifacts. After the test hole is dug out to a certain depth, measurements are taken, notes are written regarding the findings and the soils are classified.

Photos by Joni Astrup
Jonathon Bianchi dug sediment out of a test hole at Bailey Point. The dirt was then put on screens to be sifted in hopes of finding artifacts. After the test hole is dug out to a certain depth, measurements are taken, notes are written regarding the findings and the soils are classified.

He’d entertained thoughts of being an archaeologist ever since seeing an “Indiana Jones” movie at the age of 5. The public dig at the Alan Hoebelheinrich farm in Elk River sealed the deal.

“There was never any question after that,” Bianchi said.

Today, he’s a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in anthropology and kinesiology. Archaeology is a subdivision of anthropology.

“There’s nothing cooler, I think, then finding something that’s been lost for thousands of years and being the first person to pull it out and hold it in your hand. It’s just like the greatest feeling ever,” said Bianchi, a 2009 graduate of Rogers High School. “Plus, you get to be outside, you get to work with cool people, you’re always doing something different, and you’re not trapped in an office.”

Jonathon Bianchi (left) and Bob Burgess worked on a test hole at Bailey Point.

Jonathon Bianchi (left) and Bob Burgess worked on a test hole at Bailey Point.

Bianchi participated in a public archaeological dig this month at Bailey Point Nature Preserve in Elk River. When asked what he’d like to do for a career, he indicated the dig around him and said: “This. I would love to work in cultural resource management.”

The public was invited to participate in six days of digging at Bailey Point as part of the archaeological dig that ran June 14-16 and 21-23.

Gregg Felber was another participant.

He is a retired Hennepin County deputy working on a master’s degree in cultural resource management archaeology at St. Cloud State University.

“This is career two,” Felber said.

Brian McFarlane also volunteered at the dig. He has lived in Elk River since the eighth grade and is interested in all aspects of the area’s history. This is the second dig he has been a part of in Elk River.

A sign for the dig at Bailey Point.

A sign for the dig at Bailey Point.

Dr. Richard Rothaus, who led the Bailey Point dig, said close to 100 volunteers participated and more than 100 people visited the dig.

Rothaus said he first did work in Elk River in 2003 when the city hired him to do an archaeological and historic survey.

After the survey was finished, Rothaus said as an afterthought they offered a tour to the public and were surprised when about 150 people showed up.

“So the suggestion was, let’s do public digs in Elk River,” Rothaus said. “My first answer was, ‘No. Absolutely not. You can’t turn the public loose with trowels, and they’ll mess up the sites.’”

But he said they went ahead and it worked out very well. “People were very careful,” Rothaus said.

Public archaeology digs were held in 2005, 2006 and 2007 at the Hoebelheinrich farm, and then this year at Bailey Point.

Rothaus said the public digs are a chance to do something a little different.

“It’s revitalizing to have a whole bunch of people out who are interested and excited about history,” he said.

Rothaus is president of Trefoil and a research associate at the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University.

The Bailey Point dig was required as part of a grant the city received to purchase the property last year. The dig cost $25,163, with $11,223 coming from a Minnesota Historical Society grant, $1,000 from the city and $12,940 in in-kind contributions from Trefoil.

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