Great Oasis

1100 years ago

During the late Woodland period, western and cental Iowa were inhabited by groups of people whose culture archaeologists identify as "Great Oasis." Great Oasis villages were a setting for great progress. Crops improved; corn, beans and squash were harvested in surplus; food-storing methods were improved; permanent houses were built; and social organization became more sophisticated. All of this made village-based life possible. The exhibit offers a bird's-eye view of a Great Oasis village that depicts many of the daily acitivities at the Broken Kettle West site in Plymouth County, Iowa, including hunting and weapon repair by the men and pottery making and house construction by the women. Great Oasis remains were first discovered in southwestern Minnesota at the Low Village and Big Slough sites. We now know that the distribution of Great Oasis materials is extensive throughout the eastern periphery of the Plains. Great Oasis sites in Iowa are mostly centered around the Big and Little Sioux rivers and the central Des Moines River drainage. Isolated finds of Great Oasis artifacts in Iowa have been reported from the Coralville Reservoir and from the Glenwood vicinity in the southwestern part of the state. The distribution of known Great Oasis sites indicates that the people of these tribes built their villages on low ground, usually on terraces above the floodplain of a nearby river or stream. A number of these sites in Iowa have been excavated; these excavations provide some idea of the type of houses and internal characteristics of Great Oasis villages. Houses were long, rectangular structures which had been built into a shallow pit about one and a half feet deep. House walls were constructed of vertical posts interwoven with sticks and plastered with mud. It has been suggested that Great Oasis people lived in villages during certain times of the year, but left for communal bison hunts or split into smaller groups to establish garden plots at other locations. The settlement that this diorama is based on may be an example of one of the larger, more permanent Great Oasis villages. Here the animal remains from cache pits suggested that the site was occupied throughout fall, winter and spring months.