Friluftsliv: Goshen Point discovery at Beacon Island a life changer

Posted 2/11/23 (Sat)

Minot Daily News

Arts and Entertainment Section

February 11, 2023

by Doug Wurtz

To loosely translate from Norwegian to English: fri = free, lufts = air’s, liv = life. The English equivalent= Outdoor Life

I didn’t know it at the time, but a stone artifact would change the direction of the next sixteen years of my life.

A story in the June 30, 2006, edition of The Minot Daily News was headlined “Archaeological team uncovering remains of ancient bison.” The article immediately caught my attention. It was the last paragraph that set the new course. It read, “People who are interested in participating in the dig may contact (Fred) Sellet at…”

Dr. Fred Sellet was a Paris, France, archaeologist and Principal Investigator on the project. His chief assistant was a woman from the University of Bonn, Germany. Others on his team were graduate students from the University of Chicago, members of the PaleoCultural Research Group of Denver and archaeologists from the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

In what can only be described as naivete, I made a phone call and volunteered for one of the nine day “digs.”

I arrived on site not knowing an artifact from an artichoke. An artifact, in archaeological terms, is any object made or modified by a human. An artichoke is a nasty tasting vegetable.

It quickly became apparent that what I had wandered into was a world-class archaeological project. Archaeologists from around the world had come to a place called Beacon Island, located northwest of New Town, to study an event that happened 12,000 years ago. That event involved the ancestor of the modern bison, the Bison antiquus, as well as an ancient people called PaleoIndians.

The summer of 2006 was hot. On the sixth day of that nine-day project, the thermometer topped out at 105 degrees. I was face down in an archaeological unit that measured one meter by one meter square. I had earned the right, after six days, to excavate my own little piece of Beacon Island. I was sunbaked, stiff and sore, and wondering what it was that was so appealing to this team of professionals.

About fifteen minutes after my moment of doubt, a University of Chicago graduate student immediately to my left uncovered what was later identified as a Goshen Point. This little projectile point was one that had brought down a 3,500 pound, 7.5 feet tall ancestor to our modern bison. I quickly realized that I was the second person in 12,000 years to see that little point. I was immediately hooked on archaeology.

I have spent the last sixteen years as a volunteer for the State Historical Society of North Dakota working in the archeology lab at the N.D. Heritage Center and State Museum as well as being a participant in many more archaeological projects.

The little Goshen Point that was uncovered that day now resides in a display case alongside the Beacon Island exhibit in the Native American gallery at the Heritage Center. I never visit the gallery without stopping by that display case and saying hello to number “22”‘ and wondering what direction my life would have taken if not for that little piece of stone fashioned by a human being 12,000 years ago.

Sometimes a little naivete can go a long ways.

Doug Wurt grew up near Ryder and graduated from Minot State University. His retirement activities include nature photography as well as serving as a Certified Interpretive Guide for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. He is past president of the North Dakota Archaeological Association. He’s also a past board member of the Ryder Historical Society and Hiddenwood Old Settlers Association. Doug and his wife, Linda, live in Bismarck.