Illinois State Museum

Partner Address: 

502 South Spring Springfield, IL

City, State, Zip: 

Springfield, IL

Partner Phone: 

(217) 782-7386

Fossil Fish Jaw

Image of Fossil Fish Jaw “Tooth Whorl”
Ancient shark relatives from the Pennsylvanian Period evolved some puzzling jaw structures that sometimes curved outward, giving the appearance of two saw blades curving away from each other. That’s why scientists describe them as “tooth whorls.”

Tilden Meteorite

Image of the Tilden Meteorite
The first and largest meteorite ever to strike Illinois (at least in recorded history) fell to Earth in three large pieces near the town of Tilden in southwest Illinois 91 years ago. About 1 p.m. on July 13, 1927, witnesses reported a sound like an airplane passing overhead and backfiring. In fact, a large meteorite exploded three times as it streaked through the sky, rattling windows and shaking dishes.

The Golconda Mammoth

Image o The Golconda Mammoth tusk
Discovered by an excavation crew in 1926 on the bank of the Ohio River near Golconda in Pope County, this Wooly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) specimen didn’t come quietly. Illinois State Museum Director Aljah R. Crook worked with the crew on scene to recover as much of the Mammoth skeleton as possible.

Lincoln College Mammoth

Image of Lincoln College Mammoth bone
In what might have been the most successful college field trip of all time, Lincoln College freshman Judd McCullum discovered the tusk of a Wooly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) during a biology lab at the college’s Creekside Field Station in 2005. McCullum discovered the 12-foot-long tusk while conducting a freshwater mussel survey. The mammoth may have been one of the last of its kind in the region. Carbon-14 dating determined the animal died about 11,500 years ago, well after the glaciers had retreated from Illinois.

Field Guide to the Past

Image of Fossil Scorpion
Most fossil plants and animals from hundreds of millions of years ago were preserved in swampy lowland areas where they had the good fortune to die and be buried quickly by sediments in water. The water preserved the specimens long enough for the living tissues to be replaced by minerals or for the specimen to create an impression in the soft mud that hardened into shale or sandstone under heat and pressure.

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.

Competition Across the Continents

Image of Staffordshire Plates
Although the “Baker’s Falls” plate was made by James and Ralph Clews, and the “Water Works” and “Race Works” plates were made by Job and John Jackson, all three plates are identical in diameter and apparently were made from the same mold. Note that they all share the same scalloped rim edged with raised dots. We don’t know if the Jacksons obtained the molds from the Clews pottery through gift, purchase, or outright theft. The Jacksons were nephews of James and Ralph Clews and trained at the Clews pottery in Cobridge, Staffordshire, England before setting out on their own.

Artistry, Labor Strife, and Cutthroat Competition

Image of Refined Earthenware Plate: Cobridge, Staffordshire, England. Ca. 1823-1835
The transfer plate process allowed producers of Staffordshire earthenware plates to produce ever-more detailed works of art, but that was not enough to stay ahead of the competition. The business was rife with labor strife, cutthroat competition, and theft of artwork and designs. This plate was made by the pottery of brothers James and Ralph Clews, located in Staffordshire, England. Opened at about the time Illinois became a state, the Clews continued in operation until 1835. The Clews pottery was a major exporter to the United States, and its ceramics were a familiar sight in Illinois homes.

The Finer Things

Image of Refined Earthenware Plate from Staffordshire, England
Even in frontier Illinois, families sought out nice things for their homes. This plate is typical of those used on the Illinois frontier in the 1830s. It was produced by the pottery of brothers Job and John Jackson, located in Staffordshire, England. Operating their pottery from 1831–1835, the Jacksons produced a large amount of pottery for export to the United States, and pottery from the Staffordshire region dominated the Amerian market at the time. Fragments of their wares have been found at archaeological sites across Illinois, including Woodlawn Farm outside Jacksonville.

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.

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