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Child prairie grassAre you a researcher or a student interested in working with the SunWatch collection? Are you a master gardener looking for a public project to work on? Are you interested in helping restore the lands around SunWatch to a Native Prairie? Are you interested in helping to monitor our Prairie restoration program and the wildlife that inhabit the prairie?

SunWatch Museum Collection

The artifacts recovered during the Dayton Society of Natural History’s excavations at SunWatch are curated in the Anthropology Department at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton. The Anthropology Department curates a highly diverse collection of objects numbering well over 1,400,000 items, including the SunWatch material. The majority of the collection is archaeological in nature and includes stone tools, pottery, and organic materials collected during the Museum's five decades of archaeological research in the Miami Valley area. Other items in the Anthropology Collection include materials made and used by American Indian peoples across what we now call the United States, as well as other objects from around the world.

Child prairie grassWe curate items that have been excavated during local excavations, as well as items that have been donated by individuals that they obtained through travel, military service, missionary work, business partnerships, and items that have been handed down for generations within a family. We do not have all areas of the world represented equally in our collection and there is great variety in what types of objects we have from one region to the next. Our collection includes clothing, musical instruments, weapons, jewelry, tools, ornaments, and other types of materials. We serve as a permanent repository for the community, reflecting the continually changing
interests and ethnicity of our residents.

Excavation by the Dayton Society of Natural History includes work at the Late Woodland Lichliter site in Trotwood, Ohio, the Late Prehistoric SunWatch/Incinerator site in Dayton, the Middle Woodland Purdom Works in Greene County, Ohio, and the Late Prehistoric site 33 My 127, also in Dayton. We have also conducted many smaller salvage excavations when prehistoric materials have been inadvertently unearthed or were discovered during construction activities or other projects.

Child prairie grassThe Late Prehistoric period (A.D. 1000 – 1650) is the time period of greatest research interest to our department and there are few other archaeologists who actively study this period in Ohio. The Dayton Society of Natural History is best known to the public for our lengthy excavations at the Incinerator/SunWatch site, although we have spent many years excavating other prehistoric sites as well. We have occasionally returned to SunWatch to re-excavate certain portions of the site to resolve specific unanswered research questions, most notably in 2005 with a field school crew from The Ohio State University under the guidance of Dr. Robert Cook. In general, our excavations at SunWatch have been completed for the foreseeable future. Significant portions of the site have been left unexcavated for future generations who may be able to recover new information with technology that we cannot yet predict or imagine. Our research at SunWatch and at other sites has already been aided substantially with non-destructive and non-invasive geophysical technology, such as electrical resistance and magnetometry.

Our current excavations are a long-term investigation of a site known as “33 My 127.” This site was built by the same culture that occupied SunWatch Indian Village and dates to approximately the same time period (circa 600-800 years old). It is a smaller habitation site and differs in some significant ways from SunWatch. Our investigations at 33 My 127 allow us to contrast our findings there with those of SunWatch.

If you are a professional archaeologist or student interested in using the collections held by the Dayton Society of Natural History for a research project, or a museum professional or student interested in utilizing some of the collection for an exhibit, or for any other questions related to our collections please contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

For more information, please call 937-268-8199.

The Three Sisters Garden at SunWatch

Each year at SunWatch we plant a Three Sisters Garden that is modeled after historic American Indian gardens in this area with seeds of corn, beans and squash planted in small mounds. These mounds are about 1 foot high and 2-3 feet around with corn planted in the middle, beans around it, and squash around base of the mound. These plants work together as the corn provides a stalk for the beans to grow up around, and the squash would help cover the ground to control the weed population.

SunWatch gardenUnlike the reconstructed features in the Village, we do not know exactly where the villagers had their gardens, but based on the archaeological remains from trash pits and other features we know that the gardens provided the bulk of the food for the villagers.

The corn that we are growing this year at SunWatch is Myaamia Heritage Corn. This corn, provided to SunWatch by Daryl Baldwin of the Myaamia Project, is the traditional small-eared, 8-10 row white corn grown by the Miami Nation in northeast Oklahoma. The Miami Tribe was removed from the Midwest in the mid 1800s and this is the corn that made the trip with them to Indian Territory. We are very excited about the opportunity to grow this corn at SunWatch and hope that we can help the Miami Tribe ensure the success of this traditional crop.

SSunWatch Herb gardenIf you are a Master Gardener or otherwise interested in helping with the Three Sisters Garden at SunWatch please click here for more information.

Native Prairie Restoration at SunWatch

Since 1984 approximately four acres of the property around the Heilman-Kettering Interpretive Center at SunWatch have been restored to a native prairie state so our visitors can experience native vegetation as it existed about 800 years ago when the Village was inhabited.

SunWatch prairieArchaeological and geological evidence suggests that a prairie existed in this area before the land was converted to agriculture, as documented by an 1800 survey. The soil type suggests the earlier existence of a prairie. Excavations revealed the remains of animals that thrive in open areas, plant seeds typical of the same areas, a mud imprint of large-stemmed grass used in wall construction, and the mud imprint of thatching on a mud dauber’s nest (wasps still nest in reconstructed thatched roofs today). A remnant prairie that was never destroyed still exists about 1¼ miles from SunWatch.

A prairie is a grassland composed of grasses and forbs (wildflowers) that grow and bloom during the hot days of summer. The prairie at SunWatch can be described as a tallgrass mesic prairie. The grass grows from 3 to 8 feet in height and receives and retains a medium amount of moisture (as opposed to a wet or dry prairie). During an extended dry period thousands of years ago, prairies expanded into what is now Ohio from the west. When wetter periods followed, only small openings were preserved as trees encroached upon the grasslands from all sides.

The viability of a prairie is determined by geology, soil, climate and seed stock. Prairie plants are adapted to drought and fire, having deep root systems from 6-10 feet deep. Grasses have thin leaves that reduce exposure to full summer sunlight, while many forbs have hairy stems that reflect sunlight, thick leaves and stems that store water, or leaves that align with the direction of sun or curl under to avoid heat.


The front prairie flanks the parking lot on three sides. Signs identifying many of the prairie plants can be found along the walk to the building’s front door. Mown paths accessible from the parking lot and picnic shelter encircle the front prairie along the tree lines to the west and north.

Signs are also present along the back ramp leading down to the restored Village, where a mix of native and non-native vegetation is found. In addition, there is a small prairie grass garden and a native forb garden with signs along the east side of the native vegetable garden. Small areas of prairie have been planted near the stockade as well. These locations can be visited before or after touring the Village.

In the Museum

A display in the Museum, where a separate map identifying prairie areas is available, offers a good visual introduction to the prairie. Upon exiting the back door, visitors can look toward the picnic shelter to view the front prairie in its full glory.

A laminated self-guided tour booklet of the prairie, useful for identifying individual plants, is available at the front counter.


SunWatch offers a variety of unique and rewarding volunteer opportunities for all ages. Volunteer activities at SunWatch include site interpreters, Village reconstruction, prairie restoration and gardening, and fundraising. Click here for more information.