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This rock formation at the Dudgeon area is not an old Native American fish trap.

Although what some people thought might be a historic Native American fishing hole is almost certainly a more modern sign of road or bridge construction, the archeologist who answered our questions about the Dudgeon area hopes Iowans will keep looking for historical treasures, especially along Iowa's rivers.

In September, Deb Christianson saw a man-made circular wall of stones when the drought reduced water levels at the Dudgeon area. Deb wondered if maybe what she saw was a fish trap, or weir, built by Native Americans before virtually any white men had seen Iowa. There is such an area in Iowa County.

When Deb asked us to check into the rock formation, we began to ask people who would know about this. We shared her information with Mark Pingenot and Karen Phelps, who spoke to Peter Hoehnle, the director of the Iowa Valley RC &D, who passed our questions on to Dr Bill Whitaker at the Office of the State Archeologist on the University of Iowa Campus.

"We are always happy to talk to people about what they find," said Whitaker, who adds that the river bottom areas are prime locations where archeological evidence of Native American life are most likely to be seen.

There are not nearly enough resources of time or money to research all these areas, said Whitaker. Therefore, the Office of the Archeologist relies on tips or questions from Iowans who see something that seems historical to them.

What some call a fishing hole, Dr. Whitaker calls a "weir." There is such a weir in Iowa County. However, says Whitaker, the formation at the Dudgeon appears to be much more recent.

Below is Whitaker's opinion on the Dudgeon area, regarding that circular rock formation.

" Available evidence does not support this as a weir. Please note that this is not a formal survey or report, just a quick evaluation based on available maps.

"In the 1930s this was a field, probably on an old meander scar.

"In the 1950s aerial photograph, this area saw the construction of the extant bridge, a lake below (probably caused by a new dam downstream), and a large dirt road to the west.

"This west road was probably built as construction access for the new bridge; I’d be willing to bet it consisted of rock and gravel that crossed the sloughs and meanders on culvert pipes. You can see plumes or bars developing between it and the new bridge.

"By the 1960s, the construction road is abandoned, only a scar remains. The culverts were pulled, likely that the gravel and rock stayed.

"By the 1990s, area looks as it does now.

"LiDAR indicates no trace of western road, presumably washed away by recent flood episodes.

"The nearest source of bedrock is about ¾ mile away, both north and south. Prehistoric weirs are typically built near rock source; it is unlikely that Indians would haul rocks that far to build weir in middle of a silty floodplain.

"Therefore, most likely explanation is that the supposed weir is actually a relic of the 1950s western road, its rock having been pushed east by flood events into edge and eddy riprap.

"However, this is only based on map observations, would be best to confirm in the field. I have not recorded this as a site, and have no plans to do so, unless someone thinks it is better to record it to prevent future confusion."

For a story about a similarly-shaped fish trap believed to be built nearly 300 years ago on the Iowa River near Amana by Iowa Native American tribes, click HERE.

For a link to Geographic surveys in Iowa, click HERE.



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Comments (2)

I'm not sure where the gentleman spoke about when he said that "bedrock is 3/4 of a mile away" but i know that when i was digging in an area 1/4 mile East of Dudgeon and approximately 1/4 mile South, i did hit bedrock about 10 feet below water lever with my excavator when I built a dike for some crazy duck hunters from town. Maybe the expert had the education, but he did not have the same equipment as I.

By: Dave Coots on October 16th 8:39pm
Does he realize that the area across the river had an indian settlement into the the 1870's? I have hiked this area for years and the are many areas real close for river rock. Perhaps not an ancient fishing hole but one built in the same manner much later. I don't buy the flood formation.
By: Rod Moore on October 18th 9:00am

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