MNHS Archaeology uncovers new stories at Historic Fort Snelling

Stories reflect human history from 10,000 years ago to today


Archaeologists under the direction of the Minnesota Historical Society have recently identified artifacts and stone foundations around Historic Fort Snelling, including items that show Native people’s presence in the area for thousands of years. Other items represent the full military history of the site, from Fort Snelling’s start in the 1820s through the Civil War, World War I and World War II. Some of the items recovered include: 

  • Hand-crafted projectile points (pictured above), knives and stone flakes which show that there were people in the area making stone tools as much as 10,000 years ago. This adds to previous artifact discoveries, including a copper point that dates to between 8,500 to 3,000 years ago. The archaeological record shows that ancestors of Native Americans have lived, worked and crossed paths in this area for millennia.

  • The foundation of a Civil War-era officer barracks was located behind building 18. To the east crews uncovered the remnants of 1853 light artillery stables. The structures remain preserved in place. Historic maps show how the military post has changed over time but they only provide a snapshot. They do not indicate when a building is constructed or razed after the map was made and in some cases they lack detail, like where an outhouse or storage facility might have been located. Archaeological evidence is critical to completing the historical picture.

  • Archaeologists found an infantry dress hat insignia shaped as a bugle that was in use from the 1850s to the early 1870s, an 1880s marksman badge (pictured above) that would have been issued to a soldier to wear only in the year he earned the badge and a World War I-era ammo pouch tag made of brass and embossed with crossed rifles which indicates it was used by an officer in the 81st reserve unit stationed at Fort Snelling around 1917-1918. As many as 400,000 people served at Fort Snelling in its 120 years as a military post.

Archaeologists completed their investigations in July for the Historic Fort Snelling revitalization project. The scope of the work was to identify, evaluate and protect significant archaeological features in areas where construction might impact the historic landscape. 

The fort has been the focus of archaeological investigations for more than 60 years, with the first excavations occurring in 1957–58. This early work was one of the largest archaeological excavations of a military installation ever conducted in the United States. As a whole, the archaeological record at Historic Fort Snelling shows the dramatic change in how the area has been used over time. 

MNHS follows state and federal laws which protect archaeological sites on public land. The National Park Service, in partnership with the State Historic Preservation Office and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, provided oversight for this project.

View additional images here.

Historic Fort Snelling Revitalization
The Historic Fort Snelling revitalization project includes a dynamic new visitor center with a 4,000-square-foot exhibit inside a rehabilitated 1904 cavalry barracks (building 18); landscaping that provides opportunities for outdoor learning, reflection and commemoration; and improved parking, wayfinding and access. In 2021 the site will remain open during construction with a grand reopening planned for 2022. Learn more at

How to Visit and Related Programs
Visitors can explore new stories shared at Historic Fort Snelling this summer with an $8 grounds pass. The fort will be open Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 4 to Sept. 4, 2021, and on select Saturdays in September and October.  Learn more at

This September is Minnesota Archaeology Month. In partnership with the Office of the State Archaeologist, MNHS will offer archaeological programs for the public at Historic Fort Snelling and other sites across the state. A calendar will be available soon. Archaeology Day at Historic Fort Snelling will be held on September 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will include access to the History Under the Floorboards exhibit and an opportunity to see archaeologists in action. 

About MNHS Archaeology
MNHS archaeology manages and interprets archaeological resources at MNHS properties and Department of Natural Resources land; conducts surveys and excavations, and makes recommendations for protection; manages collections to ensure their ongoing protection and access; and leads public education. Work is done in consultation with Native American tribes as outlined in federal, state, and local laws. MNHS archaeology works closely with the Office of the State Archaeologist which is charged with maintaining the official archaeological records for the state, as well as the State Historic Preservation Office and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices. 

Find out more about Historic Fort Snelling archaeology.


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