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033_Archaeologist Delves Into State Relics


033_Archaeologist Delves Into State Relics


This newspaper article from the Des Moines Tribune features Dr. Charles Reuben Keyes, 76, state archaeologist for 25 years, has 160, 000 specimens, collected and cataloged for easy reference. They include 30 private collections which were given to the state.


Owens, Herb



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Cornell College Archives, Mt. Vernon, Iowa

Repository Collection

Charles Reuben Keyes

Contact information.

College Archivist, Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa. Email: or phone 319-895-4240, Cornell College, Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Phone 319-895-4240


Archaeologist Delves Into State Relics

Has 160,000 in Collection

Mount Vernon, IA -

The forgotten man among the thousands of Iowa state officials, probably, is the state archaeologist.
While other Iowans have been glorying over Iowa's first 100 years as a state, Dr. Charles Reuben Keyes has been gathering material to determine what was happening here 2,000, or 5,000 or even 20,000 years ago.
In an attic laboratory at Cornell college's Law Memorial building here, the retired profession has amassed more than 160,000 prehistoric relics--fragments of ancient potter, stone, wooden, horn and bone tools and utensils, bones of ancient animals and other clues to prehistoric life in Iowa.

Appointed in 1922

Dr. Keyes, kindly and soft-spoken, has worked industriously at his unsung task since his appointment as Iowa's first archaeologist in 1922.

Chosen by Prof. Ben Shambaugh,, superintendent of Iowa State Historical society, Keyes also is director of the Preliminary Iowa Archaeological survey, which started the same year.

Now, having catalogued thousands of specimens of early culture; having sorted, studied, and restored them, Dr. Keye is preparing to write an "Introductory volume"- the first full report on a quarter century's findings. He expects to have it ready for publication by next summer.

Came from Rockies

It's easy to listen in the kindly professor for hours as he describes the probably prehistoric life life in the state; tells how the first settlers probably started a "Go east, young man" movement from the wetern highlands of the Rockies about 2,000 years ago.
The first men known to have migrated here were Indians of the Woodland classification, including the Algonquins, of which there were more than 55 individual tribes. And these Indians were descendants of Asiatics who crossed at the Bering straits, off Alaska, a few thousand years ago--so long ago they could have hiked across because there was a natural land bridge there.
They probably came up the Yukon and down the Mackenzie river and then along the high plains east of the Rockies. The northern midwest, including Iowa, then was a very unwelcome place, having glacier after glacier.
"Then, for several thousand years, it was covered by water and swamp. When first men came here, however, the mastadons and mammoths--those now extinct types of elephants--already were here," said the professor.
Dr. Keyes said the glaciers probably receded from Iowa about 10,000 years ago and it was more than 5,000 years ago that the territory here, having developed woodlands with animal and fish life, became

Later Movement

The archaeologist who has worked in each of Iowa's 99 counties, collecting and studying relics, supervising diggings into ancient Indian camp sites, refuse pits, and cemeteries, told of a later migration, the Mississippi movement of Indians up from the south.

One of the most helpful sides of Iowa archaeology--and Dr. Keyes--in the Mississippi phase has been Ellison Orr of Waukon, whose early telephone line surveys unearthed a wealth of specimens and, digging sites along the Upper Iowa river--the area where firth the exploring French contacted Indian life.

"The refuse pits at Indian camp sites in this area have given up valuable specimens--complete specimens--such as large cooking pots, women's tools and utensils, and some French materials," Keyes said. He gave great praise to Mr. Orr, now 90, who still strives to build up the archaeological collection.

Helped Dig

Back in 1934, a federal emergency releif program provided diggers for the work; later WPA projects continued the work largely in Allamakee and Clayton counties, which Keyes considers "archaeologically rich."
Dr. Keyes was born here in Mount Vernon, where his father was one of two carpenters and builders who constructed the town's houses. Graduating from Mount Vernon's High School and Cornell college, Keyes taught school three years at Blairstown before going to Harvard university for three years of graduate study. Then he was an instructor at the University of California for three years before returning to Cornell college in 1903 as professor of German.
Dr. Keyes taught German at Cornell for 38 years, becoming alumni professor emeritus in 1941.
Since then he's been lecturer in anthropology for Cornell, visiting research professor in anthropology at State University of Iowa, and is a research associate of the Iowa State Historical society.
There's a "modest salary" from the historical society, which he adds to his Carnegie annuity as a German professor. But as he fingers through stone hoes, bone fishhooks, flint arrow heads, and skinning knives, you may be sure the good doctor is not working for the money in it.
"I must have a complete mastery, or near it, of all that occurred in all parts of Iowa during prehistoric times before I complete the introductory volume on the archaeology," he said.
Dr. Keyes, a very youthful 76, has the most complete knowledge of what happened here; now he wants to have this vast array of material easily accessible to archaeological students in the centuries to follow.