MSUM archaeologist retires after 40 years in the trenches

INFORUM, By Tu-Uyen Tran

MOORHEAD—When Mike Michlovic arrived at Minnesota State University Moorhead to start a field anthropology program, he said he was told to not bother digging in the Red River Valley because there’s nothing here.

MikeMForty years and a dozen archaeological sites later, he and his students have discovered much about the life of the ancient American Indians who lived here thousands of years ago.

As Michlovic tells it, that was all by necessity.

Israel, Greece, Romania, China,” he said. “Those are great places to work, but when I came here in ’75 part of the job description was to start an archaeological field program where students would get hands-on training in the field,” he said. “Our students, they’re not rich kids. I knew that if I tried to set up a project somewhere exotic, I would prevent many of them from being able to participate.”

Over the years, Michlovic has become known around the area for public lectures on archaeology and his leadership at the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center.

He’s one of more than 20 professors that area universities are losing as the academic year ends. Together, they’ll have provided 570 years of service teaching subjects ranging from pharmacy to religion to visual arts.

Today is commencement for MSUM and it’s Michlovic’s last day. North Dakota State University’s commencement is Saturday and Concordia College’s commencement was May 3.

A students’ professor

“I’ve enjoyed teaching,” Michlovic said. “Over the years, I’ve worked with many many students. When you do archaeology, it’s a team effort. It’s more or less impossible to dig an archaeological site by yourself.”

The students are often not enthusiastic about reading class material, he said, but they frequently prove to be excellent field workers who show commitment and care when digging up delicate artifacts.

His students have participated in excavations throughout the Red River Valley wherever artifacts are found and landowners are welcoming, and he said they almost always are.

In the mid-1990s, Michlovic and his students found stone knives, scraping tools, bones and fireplaces at an ancient campsite along the Sheyenne River in southeastern Cass County. Carbon dating shows the bones were 9,500 years old, a time when the Red River Valley was practically a desert. Michlovic said few believed that people could live here, but the Kindred site and a few others show otherwise.

In the mid-1980s and mid-2000s, they found tools, pottery shards and corn cobs at two abandoned villages encircled by defensive trenches along the Maple River in western Cass County. Michlovic estimated they were inhabited by Dakota Indians in the decades before Columbus arrived in America. The Dakota were always thought to be pure nomads, but the corn shows that they were also farmers.

But Michlovic said he’s ready to retire, joking that he knew it was time when a student tried to get into one of his classes a couple of years ago. “She said, ‘I have to get into your course so I hope it’s still open. My grandmother took a course from you and she said I should take one.’ I said, ‘Your grandmother!’ ”

The grandmother was probably a nontraditional student, he said.

MSUM is a teaching university, so he has not had time to write as much as he’d like, he said, and plans to write an overview of the ancient Indians of the Red River Valley. Maybe he’ll find time to drop by a dig, he said.

Retiring professors

More than 20 professors are retiring from North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College this year: Here’s the honor roll along with the years of service:

• MSUM: Richard Adler, speech language hearing sciences, 13 years; Steve Grineski, teaching and learning, 31 years; Michael Michlovic, anthropology and earth science, 40 years; Carl Oltvedt, visual arts, 32 years; Abbas Pezeshk, chemistry, 28 years; Kathryn Wise, biosciences, 34 years.

• NDSU: Sherman Goplen, mechanical engineering, 31 years; Ronald Johnson, management and marketing, 9 years; Virginia Johnson, human development and education, 21 years; Kevin McCaul, psychology, 37 years; Robert Nielsen, education, 42 years; Wanda Marie Roden, pharmacy practice, 12 years; Donald P. Schwert, education, 36 years; Robert K. Sylvester, pharmacy practice, 26 years.

• Concordia: Stewart Herman, religion, 28 years; Peter Hovde, political science, 44 years; Bryan Luther, physics, 21 years; Susan O’Shaughnessy, philosophy, 20 years; Max Richardson, political science, 25 years; Lisa Lee Sawyer, music, 16 years; Edward A. Schmoll, classical studies, 26 years.