Students to help restore destroyed pioneer cemetery
MORRIS — A team of archaeology students led by Rebecca Dean, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, will help restore the Boerner family cemetery near Herman. The team aims to excavate, catalog, and eventually recreate the site, which was destroyed in 2012.
One of thousands scattered across Minnesota, the small family plot contains 12 graves from the late 1800s. According to Dean, it was an important heritage spot for the Boerners, as it offered the family a contemplative setting as well as a link to their history. They contacted Dean earlier this year in hopes that she would be able to assist in the restoration of the cemetery.
While Dean has led a number of excavations in Portugal and elsewhere, this is her first dig in the local area. Because of the site’s proximity to the University, Dean believes the project will provide students an affordable and convenient, but also meaningful, service-learning experience.
“I think of what we can give to the community: a sense of their past and the importance of the Boerner family to the history of the region,” said Dean. “I like to think we’re showing the value of the site and creating an important place for the community of Herman through our work.”
Dean claims that the excavation presents a “perfect opportunity” not only to teach students basic archaeology skills, “but also to bring up important themes from the class.” One of these themes is the idea that the past is important for people today; another is that the past is best studied with respect to the needs and wants of the local community. According to Dean, both are evident in this project.
“This site is meaningful to families in the area, so this project reinforces the idea that the past is part of who we are,” said Dean. “It’s such an honor to be asked to help and to be able to demonstrate what archaeology and the University can give to the area.”
“When I first heard of this project I knew I’d like to partake in it,” said student researcher Dylan Goetsch. “This is a chance to do hands-on field work for a class, and you can’t beat that kind of experience.” Goetsch adds that he felt helping restore the site “was the right thing to do.”
The team went into the field in late October and will return next year. They will first identify the graves and later help restore the site’s original look. Dean hopes to someday involve community members in the restoration effort by inviting them to share oral histories of the cemetery.
Dean is working with the state archaeologist’s office as well as the Grant County sheriff and attorney to gain access to the site. The University’s Office of Community Engagement has provided additional support for service-learning aspects of the project.