August 23, 2022
Dr. Michael Kjelland, Assistant Professor of Biology at Mayville State University, enjoys a variety of interests and pursues a diverse repertoire of activities when not in the classroom. These range from genetics related to cattle production to cancer research, and paleontology. He is president of Fossil Excavators, a non-profit organization devoted to cross-disciplinary research collaborations and opportunities with a focus on paleontology, paleoecology, paleobiology, paleobotany, paleopalynology, molecular paleontology, and even archaeology.
His work with Fossil Excavators has resulted in some very exciting discoveries and excavations. In the summer of 2019, his team unearthed a partial Triceratops skull in the Hell Creek Formation of southwestern North Dakota. The skull, named Alice, was found inverted with the base of its left horn partially exposed above the ground. Over the course of a week of diligent excavation, Alice was meticulously stabilized with glue, plastered up and removed from a location she called home for over 65 million years. This discovery prompted a flurry of worldwide media attention.
In July of 2022, Dr. Kjelland was leading a field expedition and discovered ancestral human remains in Harding County, South Dakota. The South Dakota State Historical Society does not disclose the details of what exactly was found, except to their tribal partners. Federal and state laws mandate that the confidentiality of archaeological sites, including burial sites, is maintained.
The Historical Society’s Archaeology Division disclosed that the area where the remains were discovered as been inhabited by humans for at least 12,000 years. They noted that it is unusual to find human bone fragments in this particular area which is known for extreme weather and erosional activity.
According to State Historical Society officials, the remains are not modern and are very likely American Indian, but that is not verified at this point. They suggest that the ancestor may have washed out from a nearby body of water, although there is no evidence to support that speculation. In addition, it’s hard to date the remains since no artifacts related to a funeral were recovered.
If the remains are indeed confirmed to be American Indian, it is typical protocol for tribal partners to protect the remains and rebury them in place or in a safe location nearby. This practice follows the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The remains are now at the Archaeological Research Center in Rapid City, S.D., where a thorough documentation process is being conducted. Once the cultural affiliation is finalized, tribes will have an opportunity to submit supporting letters for return of the remains.
Learn more about the work of Fossil Excavators at https://www.fossilexcavators.com.
Photo caption: Pictured from left to right are Harrison Duran, Fossil Excavators volunteer field expedition leader; Lisa Liang, South Dakota State Historical Society senior archaeologist; Dustin Lloyd, South Dakota State Historical Society burial coordinator; and Dr. Michael Kjelland, Fossil Excavators President.)