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Museum exhibit features lives, work of noted archaeologists from North Newton

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The next special exhibition at Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus will celebrate two eminent archeologists who grew up in North Newton.

Emil W. Haury (1904-92), nicknamed “the dean of Southwest archeology,” and Waldo R. Wedel (1908-96), “the father of Great Plains archeology,” both traced their interest in prehistory to boyhood experiences along Sand Creek in North Newton – experiences that led them to lifelong careers as professional archeologists with international reputations.

Kauffman Museum will celebrate the two men’s archeological legacies with a special exhibition entitled “In the fields of time: The impact of two Kansas boys on American archeology,” beginning Sunday, Feb. 26.

That afternoon, Timothy Weston will present the first of three lectures centered around Haury and Wedel, as part of the museum’s periodic Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum series. His topic is “Waldo Wedel’s Kansas Sites, Then and Now.”

The program begins at 3:30 p.m. in the museum auditorium and is free and open to the public.

Weston is the historic preservation archeologist in the Cultural Resources Division of the Kansas Historical Society. “One could speak for a very long time about Waldo Wedel’s career,” he said, “but the approach I will choose is to focus on some of the Kansas archeological sites at which he worked, as they were in his time and as they are now.

“I will also address his legacy in Kansas archeology,” Weston continued, “not only in professional contributions that are foundational to current archeology, but also in a long-standing history of good relations between professional archeologists, landowners, avocational archeologists and the general public.”

Waldo R. Wedel grew up as a Bethel campus kid. His father, P.J. Wedel taught physical sciences and served as college registrar. Waldo spent two years at Bethel College before transferring to the University of Arizona where he completed his bachelor’s degree in archeology.

But Wedel returned to the Great Plains to study for his master’s degree at the University of Nebraska and for employment in 1936 after his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was their first anthropologist to complete a dissertation on archeology.

Before the 1930s little professional archeological work had been done in Kansas. Although not much was known about the ancient peoples of the prairie, Wedel was determined to survey the archeology of his native Kansas.

In 1937, Wedel excavated an old Kansa village site along the Missouri River bluffs above Kansas City. Although his work led him to other states, he continued the survey in Riley, Scott, Lane, Rice and Cowley counties. Between 1940 and 1967, Wedel studied five village sites in Rice and McPherson counties, focusing on the remains of what local historians called “council circles.” Wedel proposed that these structure-ditch complexes were unique to the Great Plains and that their orientation suggested a function of recording the solstice sunrise.

Wedel is well known for leading salvage archeology in the Missouri River Basin and for defining the Great Bend Aspect people of central Kansas. He spent his career with the Smithsonian Institution, guiding research and collections.

“In the fields of time” will be on display Feb. 26 through May 20 at Kauffman Museum. The additional Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum programs will focus on Emil Haury and on the 2009 Sand Creek Archeology Survey.

On Sunday, March 11, Raymond H. Thompson, director emeritus of the Arizona State Museum, will speak on “Remembering Emil Haury: The Man and His Legacy.” Prior to Thompson’s lecture, the Mud Creek Chapter of the Kansas Anthropological Association will host an artifact identification workshop during which avocational and professional archeologists will provide assistance in identifying and dating Native American artifacts or early historical items that visitors bring.

On Sunday, April 15, David T. Hughes from Wichita State University will present “Sand Creek: Prehistoric Archaeology, Small Towns and Big Effects.”

The Feb. 26 program with Timothy Weston serves as the grand opening of the new special exhibition. “In the fields of time” and the Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum lectures are supported by a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization promoting understanding of the history, traditions and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the special exhibit “In the Fields of Time,” as well as the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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