A cave that was likely someone’s home several centuries before Iowa became a state is being scoured for ancient artifacts. Located a few miles from the eastern Iowa town of Monticello, the cave is on land now owned by the Jones County Conservation Board.

It’s a rare find, according to state archeologist John Doershuk. “Caves aren’t very frequent in Iowa,” Doershuk says. “So, at least for Iowa archeologists, it’s a neat experience.” Doershuk and fellow archaeologist Bryan Kendall have spent the past five weeks investigating the cave’s contents, along with a team of ten volunteers from AmeriCorps.

Volunteer Eric Docherty is helping sift through several feet of dirt, hoping to spot something relevant among the rocks. “It started off with just, like, two days of us showing everything to Bryan and being like, ‘Is this an arrow head?’ And he’s like, ‘No that’s a rock.'”

The group has unearthed more than 15,000 artifacts — including pottery shards, tools, animal bones and spear points. The experts believe the cave was a home somewhere between the years 500 and 1,000 A.D. Looters got into the cave perhaps 20 years ago, pushing around the dirt — and the small artifacts — which Kendall says is making it hard for them to put the puzzle pieces together. Kendall says, “Where that material is located and the frequency in which you are finding these sorts of things, that’s really where all of the powerful information is.”

The digging is expected to continue through September 26th. The artifacts unearthed will belong to the Jones County Conservation Board and the board members will decide what happens to them.

(Reporting by Forrest Saunders, KCRG, Cedar Rapids)