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.
These exquisite examples of Mississippian pottery were excavated from the Emmons site in Fulton County during the 1950s. The family of Merrill Emmons, who conducted extensive excavations, donated these and other rare and unique pieces to the Illinois State Museum in 1993. Between Beardstown and Peoria, Mississippians established at least seven towns of 500 or more inhabitants, including one near Dickson Mounds Museum.
Women made pots for a variety of uses out of native clays, with crushed mussel shells added to keep the clay from shrinking too much during the drying and firing process. Pots of this time period were constructed by the slab method or by rolling the clay into coils.