Archaeologists to survey Mitchell airport land for historical artifacts

Mitchell Airport.jpg
The runway of the Mitchell Municipal Airport. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

A team of archaeologists will soon be surveying the land surrounding the Mitchell Municipal Airport, searching for areas that could be of historical importance.

As part of the city’s master plan that entails making steady improvements to the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requested the city of Mitchell to have an archaeological survey completed prior to beginning any work on the airport. If the archaeologists detect any areas at the airport that may suggest there could be historical significance such as ancient Native American artifacts, they will have the ability to dig and further explore the land.

“They will be walking the site to see if there are any geological areas that need to be explored further or if there is anything out there that indicates there may be some historical designation or historical interests,” said Kyle Croce, Public Works Director, noting the survey is expected to begin prior to winter.

Croce said the archaeologists will coordinate with Native American tribes that are interested in surveying the land as well.

“And the tribes could also walk and survey the site to see if there is any historical importance to the area in reference to their tribes,” Croce said.


The city selected Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, Inc. to complete the survey at a cost of $42,875. The FAA has stated to the city that the survey will be fully reimbursed.

In the chance an artifact that’s of historical importance is found during the survey, Croce said the city would work closely with the archaeologists and tribes to determine the significance of any artifacts that could be potentially discovered on the airport grounds.

“We would work with whatever group we would need to if something is found, whether it would be the tribes, historical society and archaeologists,” Croce said. “But it would also depend what the relevance is on something that may be found. We would be very interested if something like that happens, because there can be a lot of importance to it and the land.”

Considering the Prehistoric Indian Village sits roughly 2 miles south of the airport, ancient Native American artifacts are relatively nearby. Over the past several decades, archaeologists have unearthed Native American tools and pottery, some dating as far back as 1,000 years. Whether the archaeologists discover any historic findings around the airport is yet to be determined, of course.

Unlike the Indian Village grounds, Croce noted the land around the airport has already been disturbed in the past when it was constructed in the 1940s, making it less likely for a historic artifact to be uncovered.

The history of Mitchell’s airport dates back to 1945, in the midst of World War II. The U.S. military constructed the airport at the time to become the home of the Norden bomb targeting system. After WWII ended, the base was closed, leading to the city of Mitchell taking ownership of the municipal airport.

“When they were doing construction on the airport just before the end of World War II, there was already a lot of earthwork that had been done,” Croce said. “I don't know how great the chances of finding something really are because the ground at the airport has been disturbed.”

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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