Early Local Indigenous Cultures and Histories: English Students visit Flint Hills Discovery Center

Students from ENGL 640 “Going Native: Literatures from Turtle Island” during our visit of the Flint Hills Discovery Center on 28 January 2023 (from left to right in back: Tucker Newsome, Kaleb Roberts, Erica Martin, Kyla Barry, Cassidy Hartig, Achilles Seastrom; from left to right in front: Cecilia Pick, Evan Saltare, Merissa Christensen, Mayci Armstrong, and Chloe Snow)

What can archeological finds tell us about deep local Native American cultures and histories?

With support from the English Department (thank you!), English students from the Early Native American Literature class explored narratives folded into the rich exhibits of pre-Columbian Native artifacts at the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

Here are some observations from students after their visit:


Among the artifacts found at the Diskau archaeological site, a Paleoindian occupation in northeast Kansas (current Manhattan and surroundings), are sharpened arrow and spearheads made from various local and non-local materials. Some of these may have been used with an atlatl, a clever tool that assisted in throwing spears or darts fashioned out of flexible wood. The atlatl functioned as an extension of the user’s arm, providing extra leverage and allowed projectiles to achieve higher speeds, further distances, and greater impact. Craft workers carved a nub into the base of the atlatl to stabilize the projectile. A versatile invention, atlatls were used for hunting large game, such as bison. Early Spanish conquistadors, in fact, reported that projectiles thrown with the atlatl had the ability to pierce metal armor.

Achilles Seastrom and Evan Saltare



We liked this reproduction of a Kansa Earth Lodge that showcases common dwellings on the Plains in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A structure composed of large wooden beams supported the center and smaller beams for the circular exterior. Smaller willow branches and grasses were then woven in between the exterior supports before covering the walls and roof in mud. The mud acted as insulation and allowed the lodge to remain warm in the winter and cool in the summer. An extended entry way often acted as further protection from the elements.

Tucker Newsome and Cecilia Pick



We enjoyed the exhibits that detailed the complexity and interconnectivity of Native lives in our grasslands. Native grasses grow deep root systems that support numerous species, for example, bison. Bison, of course, were central to Indigenous foodways, and herds of bison we learned created small dips in the landscape known as wallows, which in turn allowed for the capture of water and integration into the ecosystem.

Kaleb Roberts, Erica Martin, and Kayla Barry



We are both in education and very interested in materials about forced assimilation and regional Native American schools. The displays also explained massive and forceful Native American relocations beginning with the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

Mayci Armstrong and Chloe Snow




Some Native tools on display were shinier and pinker than others. We learned that this coloration indicates a clever heating technique that Native craftsmen used to make rocks flake instead of break into unusable pieces. This way, artisans could shape rocks into knives like in the above photo. We were intrigued by the ingenuity of Native artisans who created these instruments and the brilliance of archeologists who used small hints to uncover these traditional techniques.

Merissa Christensen and Cassidy Hartig

Steffi Dippold, Associate Professor and instructor for ENGL 640 (Spring 2023)

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