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Artifacts part of husband's legacy

Staff writer

When Edith Warneke’s husband, Harlow, found an assortment of Native American artifacts several years ago along the banks of the Cottonwood River near 190th Rd., she was delighted with the possibilities they held.

“I was thrilled to pieces,” she said. “I was really excited when he brought in those artifacts.”

She enjoys Native American culture and history, and owns several pieces of jewelry as well. The thought of keeping the artifacts, though, interested Warneke so much that she would have given up the jewelry to keep the historical treasures.

Now, Warneke wants to share them with others while she still can, and plans to donate them to Marion Historical Museum.

“I’ll cry a little bit, but I’ll part with it,” she said.

What stuck out about the artifacts was their coloration, a creamy off-white with splashes of blue or red.

“It’s so light,” she said. “Harlow was plowing by the river, saw this piece, and thought, ‘What on earth?’ He even ran it over with the tractor.”

The artifacts probably were tools used by ancestors of the Wichita tribe, who were living in Marion and McPherson counties in the 1600s and 1700s, Wichita State University archeology Professor Donald Blakeslee said.

“Under Marion, as well as north and south of Marion, roughly right along the river, it’s one big, continuous site,” he said. “People in town should know about that, and some of them will.”

The artifacts found by Warneke’s husband are fashioned from chert, a rock high in silica that comes from mines in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma. The high silica-content made it ideal for creating sharp objects, Blakeslee said.

Recognizing artifacts, particularly made from chert, can be complex because there is so much variation.

“It depends on what you’ve seen before,” Blakeslee said. “If you’ve seen the right stuff then it’s immediate. Otherwise you look at it and go, ‘That’s weird; I don’t know what it is.’ ”

Warneke’s artifacts include two knives for slicing jerky, a scraper for cleaning bison hides, and an unfinished spear-point, according to Blakeslee.

What interests Warneke about the artifacts is the history they hold, and what they might have been.

The tools were found with the scraper, the largest artifact, on top, Warneke said.

Finding them arranged in such a way indicates they were part of a cache and were being stored for later, Blakeslee said.

“There are recorded sights all in that area, so it’s not a surprise,” he said. “It’s from a place where people actually lived.”

Artifacts can become difficult to find in areas where no-till farming is popular, Blakeslee said.

While Blakeslee doesn’t support people tearing up land to find artifacts or destroying sites because of carelessness, he thinks the process can be done in a non-invasive manner.

“There’s nothing wrong with collecting,” he said.

Blakeslee hasn’t done any excavations in Marion, but he has visited the county, and there is precedent for finding artifacts in the area.

Arthur Rohn and Alice Emerson authored a book titled Great Bend Sites at Marion, Kansas that documented a 1984 Wichita State excavation from when the Army Corps of Engineers did a flood protection project.

The sites found 92 artifacts, ranging from pottery shards and rocks to crushed mussel shells.

Warneke’s artifacts come from outside the boundary, but they could have been as close as a few hundred feet from where excavations were done.

There have been several other local projects done over the years. The earliest documented dig site found apparent refuse mounds during 1879 south of Marion, according to Great Bend Sites.

Sorting artifacts requires a specific process that can vary depending on the institution, Blakeslee said.

Artifacts at Wichita State are given accession numbers written in India ink and placed in individual bags. The exact location where they were discovered, and any other information, is recorded and catalogued.

An arrowhead also is among Warneke’s artifacts but it likely is not Native American-made, Blakeslee said.

“It looks a little suspicious like maybe somebody modern made it,” he said. “It’s not quite the right design.”

Wichita tribe arrowheads typically are very triangular and feature small notches or none at all, while the one among Warneke’s collection has ones that are more apparent, Blakeslee said.

Last modified Sept. 24, 2020

 

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