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Unit 1: Set 3: Ancient Villages - Introduction

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This unit will examine three North Dakota State Historic Sites where people lived before Europeans came to live in this area. All of these sites were occupied by people whom today are known as the Mandan. By studying these three villages, each occupied at a different time, we can see how their culture changed over a period of more than 500 years.

The ancestors of the Mandan occupied much of the Missouri River Valley in modern-day North and South Dakota from about 1200 AD on. They traveled to hunt and to locate important resources, but their villages were sedentary, or permanently located. They moved, taking their important possessions with them and building a new village, when they were threatened by disease or warfare, or when they had used up resources such as wood near their village.

There are actually two lessons in this Document Set. The first lesson is about how the ancestors of the Mandan lived in central North Dakota before Europeans arrived. The second lesson is about the methods archeologists use to develop an understanding of the ancient past. Archeologists use tools such as shovels and trowels to dig into ancient village sites, but they also use modern technology such as airplanes to gain a good aerial view of a site or magnetic gradiometry to view sub-surface features. They study artifacts, or objects made by ancient people, to learn about the way they made a living, gathered and stored food, raised their children, and built their houses. Artifacts can also tell us about religious practices and artistic efforts.

The study of these villages is not complete. Archeologists will continue to study these important sites for many years to come, applying new technologies as well as traditional methods to learn more about the complex of pre-historic Mandan cultural sites and the people who have occupied this region for hundreds of years. They will learn more about each village and its unique contributions to the regional culture and economy. For instance, archeologists theorize that some villages specialized in certain skills, such as making pottery or bracelets. Further study may bring into focus the arrival of horses on the northern plain around 1750 AD and how these animals influenced Mandan culture.

All three of these sites are located within a few miles of Bismarck and are open to visitors. For more information:

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