Ancient burial mounds disturbed by construction work being restored

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"This is a sacred and private site, please be respectful and stay behind any fencing."

That's not usually a warning you get for road and bridge work along Minnesota's county highways.

But the reconstruction of Bushaway Road on County Road 101 in Minnetonka hasn't been usual.

The project – which started last fall – has been paused and rerouted in recent months as crews work to preserve ancient American Indian burial mounds they didn't believe were there.

Here's what happened, and where we are now.

Surveys show no intact burial mounds

The County Road 101 project includes a whole host of work to be done, but at the center of the issue is a proposed roundabout on to Breezy Point Road, intended to fix what's been described as a dangerous 90-degree turn.

Ancient burial mounds "dot several locations" in the area, according to the city of Wayzata, dating back to the Dakota Mdewakanton people who lived in the area until they were resettled via treaty in 1854.

Knowing this, Hennepin County commissioned studies – to be conducted by independent parties – to figure out if burial mounds in the construction area were still intact and would need to be avoided, the Laker and Pioneer reported.

The ruling? A "low probability of containing burials," and the project was given the green light.

Construction begins

Work started in September of 2014 – and was halted on Oct. 11, when bone fragments were discovered during excavation, the county says.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and it’s the first time I’ve given the go ahead and anything has been hit,” state archaeologist Scott Anfinson said at a Minnesota Indian Affairs Council meeting this spring, the Lakeshore Weekly News reported.

That led to meetings between Hennepin County officials, the Indian Affairs Council, and the Mdewakanton Sioux community to determine a course of action: how to respectfully handle the ancient remains, and what to do about the roundabout, the paper said.

Recovery begins

Over the winter, fencing was installed around the area and the site was covered to protect it, the county says.

Now, Hamline University is on the site recovering artifacts and disturbed remains, which will be restored in burial mounds, according to an update from the county Wednesday.

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Hamline's restoration work will continue likely through June, depending on the weather.

KSTP says the goal is to reconstruct the mounds at their current location, with the county and Indian Affairs Council also involved.

According to the Star Tribune, five mounds were impacted by bulldozers; there are 12 mounds in total.

As for the roundabout: It's no longer happening. It can't be done without disturbing the intact burial mounds. Instead, officials are working together to introduce a curve that will still make the stretch safer.

The entire project is expected to be done in the fall of 2016.

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