ST. CLOUD -- Archaeological materials documenting some of Minnesota's earliest days will be curated, researched and preserved, thanks to a significant state grant.

The Douglas A. Birk Collection, housed within the Anthropology Department at St. Cloud State University, has been awarded a $71,392 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant.

Douglas Birk, who died in 2017, spent decades researching Minnesota's fur trade, logging industry, railroads and missions. A freshwater diver, Birk was one of the first archaeologists to excavate 18th-century canoe wreck sites, says Rob Mann, Associate Professor of Anthropology and collection manager.

"He was a pioneer in many ways," Mann says. "Doug developed a lot of the techniques and equipment necessary to dive in those conditions and find these kinds of sites.”

Doug Birk (Photo courtesy of SCSU)
Doug Birk (Photo courtesy of SCSU)

The Douglas A. Birk Collection includes artifacts, slides, photographs and documents amassed by Birk throughout his decades-long career. The department received the collection as a gift following his death.

“(The grant) will allow us to hire a professional archivist," Mann says. "We’re also able to provide secure storage and curation space for the archives, and begin the process of doing research on the collection."

The grant will last at least a year, Mann says. The goal is to groom the collection into a resource for students, researchers and professional archaeologists, and eventually select items for public display.

"The money will be well spent," Mann says. "We’re hopeful that, by the time the grant is finished, the collection will be in great shape to be made available to the public.”

Mann says the department plans to host a public ceremony when the work is finished.

“We hope that it will generate a lot of interest in Minnesota history and archaeology," Mann says. "There are so many aspects of Minnesota people may not be aware of."

The Douglas A. Birk Collection is one of 38 projects awarded in the latest round of Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant funding. Other central Minnesota winners include:

  • City of Brainerd, $23,700: Restore and preserve the Brainerd water tower, built between 1918-1921 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • City of Elk River, $136,367
    Restore the Elk River water tower, built in 1920 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Sinclair Lewis Foundation, Sauk Centre, $90,000
    Hire professionals to produce a historical play on Sinclair Lewis in honor of the 100th anniversary of his novel, "Main Street."
  • Todd County, $76,000
    Preserve a rock retaining wall, listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Todd County Historic Courthouse.

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