Around AD 1200, about 200 people settled in a small village on the banks of Apple Creek. Today it is known as Menoken Village, a state historic site. The people who lived there were associated with a cultural group known as Late Plains Woodlands peoples and they were probably ancestors to modern day Mandan or Hidatsa.
This small village consisted of about 30 small earth-covered lodges surrounded by a palisade with 4 bastions and a wide ditch. At least two houses were located outside of the palisade. The north and west sides of the village site were protected by the steep banks of Apple Creek. The 700 to 800 posts of the palisade enclosed nearly one and one-half acres. (It is possible that the village was somewhat larger at one time. Apple Creek may have changed its course and cut through a portion of the village.)
While the people of Menoken depended mostly on hunting and gathering for their subsistence, they were familiar with corn and squash. There is no archeological evidence that they raised crops in gardens. While there is some charred corn at the site, there is very little of it and no gardening implements such as a hoe which might indicate that they raised crops. Most of their vegetables and fruits were gathered from the native chokecherries, wild grapes, plums, and rose hips, and other plants. They also gathered some root vegetables from the prairies. Bison formed a major source of protein and they also hunted, trapped or fished for other mammals, birds, and fish.
They manufactured necessary tools from local and trade resources. Using local clay, they made clay pots. They also acquired Knife River Flint from the quarries sixty miles to the west and other stone to make important tools. They also made bone tools. They also applied copper that they acquired through trade with people who traveled to the copper region of northern Michigan to their stone tools.
Menoken’s residents lived in two types of houses. The pit house was dug about 2 feet below the surface and measured about 16 by 23 feet. Storage pits and hearths were generally located outside of the houses. The house construction consisted of a ridge pole along the length of the house. Archeologists speculate that the walls were constructed of stacked sod on the sides.
The other type of house was a surface house. This type of house was approximately the same size as the pit house, but had more support posts set into the ground. The roof was covered with elm and oak branches and over that was laid 8 to 10 inches of earth. Both types of houses were occupied at the same time during the course of occupation of Menoken Village.
The excavations at Menoken show evidence of extensive trade. In addition to the copper from the Great Lakes, there was also shell imported from the Pacific Coast. The shells were fashioned into beads. Obsidian has been found at Menoken. This shiny black volcanic glass is extremely hard and forms a very sharp edge for cutting. Most likely, this rock was brought from the area near Yellowstone National Park, more than 500 miles to the west. It is interesting that glass beads have been found at the Menoken site. These beads were found on a layer of soil that was located above the ancient village. It is likely that these beads were dropped at this location by people who traveled through here later. Glass beads did not show up in North America until after Europeans colonized the continent.
Dogs were present in the ancient Menoken village. These useful animals may have been valued for carrying loads or other forms of assistance in the community.
At one time, Menoken Village was thought to be the site that La Verendrye visited when he first met the Mandan in 1738. However, later archeologists have used more sophisticated dating techniques to demonstrate that Menoken is considerably older than that. Today, Menoken is considered an important archeological site because it appears to have been built at the end of one cultural period (Woodland) and just before the appearance of sedentary horticultural (farming) villages along the Missouri River. It is a place where archeologist can see that cultural change is just about to happen.
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