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Expert to talk about skeleton found near West Union

David Mather, national register archaeologist with the Minnesota Historical Society, will present a lecture on the "Sauk Valley Man" skeleton at the West Union City Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17.

The event is part of Minnesota Archaeology Month and organized by the Sauk Center Historical Society.

Mather has done research at the Sauk Valley Man site near West Union. "The skeleton, the Sauk Valley Man, was found in the 1930s," he said.

The skeleton fell out of a gravel pit wall when a crew of people were digging gravel. A West Union Catholic priest, Father Henry Retzek, who happened to be a Harvard University trained geologist, was very interested in archaeology and published an article in an academic journal about the skeleton, according to Mather.

"We know now from studies done in the 1990s that the skeleton was about 4,000 years old," said Mather. "It was a middle aged to maybe slightly older man."

He said the skeleton was definitely American Indian, but is too old to know which tribe he was from. They think the man died on the high ground overlooking Guernsey Lake.

In 2008, Mather went out to the site a number of times to document the archaeological site surrounding the area of the gravel pit.

He said it looks like there was an ancient village or campsite where the Sauk Valley Man was found.

The 4,000-year-old date is from a time period archaeologists call the Archaic Period, said Mather.

"We don't have a lot of Archaic sites," Mather said. "People were generally nomadic hunters and gatherers."

The time period was before burial mounds and domesticated crops, said Mather.

The skeleton was reburied under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The Sauk Valley Man was originally thought to be much older than 4,000 years.

Mather said the techniques for studying human remains has advanced a lot since the 1930s.

"Radiocarbon dating didn't exist yet," Mather said about the early research on the find.

Mather, who has been the national register archeologist with the Minnesota Historical Society for about 11 years, is also finishing his doctorate at the University of Minnesota.

Mathers said he is very excited about the event in West Union.

"I always enjoy spending time around West Union and Sauk Center and it's a historically and archaeologically really interesting part of the state," Mathers said.