Small ornaments of this type were part of the ceremonial dress of leaders who wore them on the ear. They are carved from a piece of marine shell imported from other parts of the country and are often carved in a triangular shape with circular eyes, a long nose, and a squared-off crown.
The animals that provided food, clothing, and tools for Native people, and that were the basis for stories and legends, often appear as subjects of artwork that adorns pottery and other decorative and ceremonial objects. These animal effigy pipes (Raven and Otter) were found in southeastern Illinois.
For people of the late Woodland Period living about 1,000 years ago, animals provided more than just meat for their diets. In the Lower Illinois River Valley and American Bottoms (where Mississippian culture and the City of Cahokia would eventually rise to prominence), archaeologists have discovered significant collections of bone tools and ornaments.
Much of what we know about the Kickapoo Indian Tribe in Illinois comes from an archaeological investigation that took place prior to a road-building project in the 1970s. This copper or brass kettle was one of the artifacts uncovered from the Rhoads village site. Excavations revealed a mix of traditional stone tools, arrow points, pottery, and other objects mixed with items of European origin including glass beads, silver crosses and jewelry, ceremonial smoking pipes, and this kettle.
After thousands of years of using stone, and to a lesser extent mussel shell digging tools, some Native people transformed the bison’s shoulder blade, or scapula, into digging tools to tend their gardens.
Even a piece of bone adapted for use as a tool is an opportunity for artistic expression. In this case, an arrow straightener, made from a bison’s rib bone, serves as a tiny canvas. It was found at the Kaskaskia Village site in Randolph County and collected in 1952.
Despite the best efforts of archaeologists, serendipity often plays a role in the most significant finds. In the case of the Mackinaw Cache, a group of boys hauling gravel on a farm near Mackinaw in 1916 uncovered about 40 spectacular “bifaces” on the slope of a hill just a quarter of a mile from the Mackinaw River. A biface is a stone implement that has been worked on both sides.
Before Christopher Columbus set foot on San Salvador in the West Indies in 1492, Native American Mississippian culture rose and fell starting about 1,000 years ago (A.D. 1050). The Mississippians got their name from archaeologists who identified the main centers of culture were found in the Mississippi River Valley. The culture that created the City of Cahokia near present-day East St. Louis flourished for 400 years through A.D. 1450. Mississippian people lived throughout southern and west-central Illinois. In all, archaeologists have identified 2,379 sites in Illinois, most along river and stream corridors.
Clothing worn by Native American men and women was often colorfully decorated, as is the case of this beaded vest made between 1880 and 1900. Beads were first strung together before attaching them to the surface, allowing the maker more freedom in creating curved designs. The floral patterns probably indicate a strong, French colonial influence. The Ojibwa, or Chippewa people, lived in the northern United States and Canada around Lake Superior.
This selection of arrow points is part of a much larger cache of several hundred arrowheads, all of exceptional craftsmanship and made with a variety of materials. They were discovered in a burial in Mound 72 at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near East St. Louis, Illinois, almost 50 years ago. The points originated from distant places like Oklahoma, Tennessee, southern Illinois, and Wisconsin. They probably were offered in tribute to a person of great importance who was buried there.