Anthropology/Archaeology

Discoidal or Chunkey Stone

Image of chunkey stone from the Cahokia Mounds Site.
In the 1720s, Le Page du Pratz visited a Natchez village near New Orleans and observed men playing games with a disc-shaped stone. In one game, a man rolled a stone across the ground. When the stone came to rest, other men wagered on who could cast a spear closest to the stone. Du Pratz published his account of the game and other aspects of Natchez life in a book titled The History of Louisiana.

Porcelain “China” Doll Head

Image of porcelain doll head.
Like the detailed Staffordshire transfer print plates used for dining, residents on the Illinois frontier also imported other goods from Europe, including toys. This porcelain doll head, along with other pieces, was recovered from a cistern at the Huggins Farmstead Site in Perry County.

New Philadelphia Plate Fragment

Image of plate fragment recovered from excavations at New Philadelphia, an African-American settlement in western Illinois.
This plate fragment came from the home site of Alexander Clark, an African American blacksmith living in New Philadelphia, Illinois, in the mid-1800s. It shows a portion of a bridge and person bridling a horse, an image that can also be found near the center of a transfer print plate with the image “Rural Scenery.”

Galena Ore

Image of Galena Ore
Well before Illinois became a state, Native American tribes (the Sac and Fox) living in the area mined galena ore (lead sulfide), the source of lead.  Pioneer settlers also exploited the area’s lead resources, eventually displacing the Native Americans who first mined here. In the 1820s, galena ore became the focus of the first major “mineral rush” in the United States. By the end of the 1820s, the city of Galena rivaled Chicago in size. 

Stone Petroglyph

Image of stone with Petroglyph
This petroglyph is made of stone, probably granite, and has been pecked or incised with Native American artwork on two sides. The artwork has been traced with white chalk to make it clearly visible. It was found in Wabash County at Hanging Rock and was likely produced by a holy man of the Piankishaw Tribe.

Pearlware Fragments

Image of Hand Painted Dish Fragments
These fragments were discovered during an investigation of a well that had been filled in at the Williams Fort site in southeastern Illinois. The site was the location of a farmstead occupied by the family of Aaron and Tabitha Williams from about 1811-1838. To defend against the possibility of attack by Native Americans during the War of 1812, a stockade was constructed. A tavern was operated at the site in the years following the war.

Bringing Reminders of Home

Image of German Staffordshire Plate

German transfer print plate provides clues to settler’s origins

Immigrating to a new land brought with it plenty of uncertainty. That may be why a German immigrant family brought items with them that reminded them of home. This transfer print plate, made in the style of Staffordshire, England potters, was actually made by Villeroy & Boch, a German pottery firm.

The Rise of Corn

Image of ancient corn cob and modern-day corn.

Compare the size of ancient corn cob with modern-day corn.

Pictured here is a vial containing a corncob that was found in a fire pit at Cahokia Mounds. The pit and its contents are about 800 years old.  Note the size difference between the ancient specimen and the modern sweet corn purchased from a local grocer. 

The Origins of Pottery

Image of early decorated ceramic jar fragment.

Early Decorated Ceramic Jar Fragment.

To understand the significance of the invention of pottery, consider the modern Sunday barbecue where one might hear the sizzle of grease from the hamburger as it drips through the grill and into the fire. But for Native people, the fat going up in smoke represented the loss of crucial calories. Hunters spent hours of physical exertion stalking, killing, butchering, and transporting their game home. Meats and other foods were then cooked by placing the pot in a fire with no loss of those hard-won calories.

Wood and Plant Fiber Fabric

Image of Wood and Plant Fiber Fabric

Early Late Woodland, ca. A.D. 550 - 850 Newbridge Site, Greene County, Illinois

This carbonized, woven fabric was recovered in 1974 during archaeological excavations at the Newbridge site in Greene County, Illinois, by Northwestern University. Perhaps part of a fringed skirt, the fabric is approximately 1150 to 1450 years old, dating from the early portion of the Late Woodland period.

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