During the 1998 field season the Nebraska State Historical Society Archeology Division was involved in emergency salvage excavations at site 25SY116 in Sarpy County. The site, located on a high bank of Papillion Creek, about two miles east of the town of Papillion, was discovered during grading activities associated with a housing development project. The uncovering of what appeared to be human bone by the equipment oprators caused the contractor to notify the Society and an inspection followed. The skeletal remains, Woodland in age, were determined to be from burials destroyed by farming operations and erosion. Because of their disturbed and very fragmentary nature, in situ preservation was not a reasonable option. Therefore, the surviving material was collected for eventual reburial by the appropriate Native American group.
During the initial visit, evidence of a more recent, possibly protohistoric, component was also discovered, and later motoring of the earthmoving operations resulted in the discovery of a large number of pits associated with that occupation. Various levels of salvage were employed, depending upon the time and resources available and the condition of the feature when discxovered. Whenever feasible, feature fill was bagged and returned to the laboratory for flotation and water screening. In all, over 100 pits received some level of investigation. No definite evidence of structures associated with this occupation was found. A few scattered post molds discovered may relate to either this period or to a more recent farmstead that once occupied part of the site. It appears likely that the structural evidence may have been concentrated near the surface and was removed either by cultivation or the initial grading by the contractor that took place prior to the arrival of the archeologists. The type of material recovered and the site location strongly suggest an Oto occupation of the site sometime during the first half of the 18th century.
The most common artifact types found during the excavations were raw materials for ground stone and chipped stone tools, suggesting that sources for both of these are nearby. Finished ground and chipped stone tools were also present in limited numbers. Pottery was quite abundant. Simple stamping as a surface treatment is common and many of the rims are very similar to those found on protohistoric Pawnee Lower Loup sites; however, tempering is often of shell rather than grit or sand, suggesting a blending of two pottery traditions. Euroamerican trade goods were fairly plentiful, generally of the type expected on quite early sites. Included are: glass beads, small brass beads, brass tinkling cones, brass tubes, a brass bell, unidentified brass fragments, an iron hatchet blade, iron knife blades, an iron ball (grape or cannister shot), an iron awl, and unidentified iron fragments. A few sherds of a quite highly fired wheel-turned coarse earthenware were also found. The source has not yet been determined. One incomplete gun part was recovered (identified by T.M. Hamilton, early firearms expert, as from a french Type D trade gun - introduced about 1730). No gun flints have thus far been identified. Floral and faunal remains were also present in the pits, in varying amounts. Included among the worked bone items was a quite rare example of a flesher fashioned from a bear femur. Red pipestone, not yet identified as to source, but probably obtained through trade from Minnesota, was quite abundant at the site, usually consisting of pieces showing evidence of having been worked with metal tools. Several hundred bags of pit fill remain to be processed and should yield much additional artifactual and ecofactual material. The information obtained from the investigation of this site will be the focus of an ongoing research project during the upcoming two to three years.
The NSHS staff was assisted in the fieldwork by several volunteers, including employees of the Fontenelle Forest nature Center, as well as three members of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma who spent a week, both in the field and in the laboratory, as a result of grants administered jointly by the NSHS, the Nebraska Department of Roads, and the Pawnee Tribe.