Managing cultural resources

Shovel testing to identify a possible archaeological site
Staff conduct shovel testing to identify a possible archaeological site.

The Parks and Trails Division develops recreational areas for people to enjoy, but did you know it is just as important for us to preserve Minnesota's cultural resources? This includes everything from archaeology sites to cemetery locations and historic architecture.


The DNR and the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) have cooperated to manage cultural resources on Parks and Trails lands since 1978. Before a construction project begins, Parks and Trails archaeologists complete historic research and conduct an archaeological survey within the location.

Archaeological surveys

An archaeological survey involves sifting through the soil, looking for artifacts such as a piece of worked stone, a pottery shard, an old fire hearth, Civilian Conservation Corps materials...any remnants of past peoples and cultures.

We dig methodically, documenting the exact location and depth of artifacts to describe their relation to others. Each artifact is a piece of a puzzle that tells the story of an archaeological site. If one piece is moved or removed from the puzzle, the whole story is disrupted. 

The goal of any archaeological survey is to avoid and protect cultural resource locations, and if that is not possible, to learn as much as we can from what was left behind. 

Looking beyond the artifacts

Archaeologists aren't just looking for artifacts. They also review any human-made or significant cultural locations. Architectural historians review and help us protect locations like buildings, fountains and dams that are on - or may be eligible for - the National Register of Historic Places.

Cultural resource sites reveal evidence of past land use and ways of life. In collaboration with Minnesota's Tribal Nations, the DNR/MNHS cultural resource program staff provide critical expertise in preserving these cultural resources and help us tell the stories of the past to our visitors. 


Archaeologists and students assessing a state park site for artifacts.
Archaeologists and students assess a state park site for artifacts.

Architectural historian giving a tour of Seppmann Mill at Minneopa State Park.
Architectural historian giving a tour of Seppmann Mill at Minneopa State Park.

Pottery sherd found during state park archaeological investigation.
A pottery sherd found during a state park archaeological investigation.

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