Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha Indians: The Big Village Site

Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha Indians: The Big Village Site

Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha Indians: The Big Village Site

Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha Indians: The Big Village Site

Excerpt

Only three archaeological sites of undisputed Omaha affiliation have been professionally investigated, and just one, Big Village was accorded a major program of excavation. It is nothing short of incredible that a village site as prominent to early travelers as Big Village has not previously figured in the understanding of American Indian lifeways on the Missouri during the contact period.

The creation of this book is closely tied with our introduction to, and fond acquaintance with, one of the truly formidable forces in the development of Plains archaeology, John Leland Champe. The work at Big Village was Champe's first major solo excavation. For that reason, it assumed great importance to him, and on at least two occasions he began revising his notes in preparation for writing up the excavations. What finally persuaded him to entrust the site to the uncertain care of the present authors remains for us a happy mystery, happy, because it led to not only a professional but also a personal acquaintance with John and his gracious wife, Flavia Waters Champe. Through repeated visits to Homer and long conversations at their 27th Street home in Lincoln, we came to know two different Big Villages--one that was occupied by the Omahas during the nineteenth century, and another as it appeared in the 1940s. The flavor of this second Big Village can be sensed in the foreword for this volume. As we began pulling together the material for this volume, Champe took an active, if supervisory, role. He did, however, have a few suggestions for improving the descriptions here, and perhaps we were jumping to conclusions there . . . When Champe died in January 1978, the Big Village report still remained an uncompleted manuscript. From that point on we inherited a debt that only its final completion could absolve. This monograph represents the settling of that debt.

Working up old collections inevitably involves a degree of best- guess estimation, and the Big Village material was no exception. The problems in this particular case were exacerbated by the multiplicity of investigators involved in the excavation and lab processing of the archaeological materials between 1939 and 1942. The most serious of these problems was the existence of no fewer than three distinct generations of catalogs, with the earlier numbers on each artifact . . .

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