Illinois State Museum

Partner Address: 

502 South Spring Springfield, IL

City, State, Zip: 

Springfield, IL

Partner Phone: 

(217) 782-7386

Oil / Burning Fluid Lamp

This lamp was created to burn whale oil but was later fitted with a new burner to accommodate burning fluid, a cheaper, and more dangerous, alternative fuel. The new burner’s wicks extend upward at an angle away from the lamp to transfer the heat away from the fuel reservoir to reduce the risk of explosion.

All Our Own: The Tully Monster

Image of Tully Monster.

Tully Monster.

Their fossils are locally common but have been found nowhere else on Earth. That’s why the Tully Monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium), a slender soft-bodied creature with a long, narrow snout and sensory organs (primitive eyes) set away from the body on stalks, has come to represent Illinois as the “State Fossil.” Francis Tully found the first one in 1958. He took it to experts at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for identification, but the scientists were stumped. Museum staff with a sense of humor nicknamed it the “Tully Monster.”

Fluorite Crystals

Image of Fluorite crystals.
Fluorite (fluorspar) mining got its start in Illinois in 1842. The mineral is usually referred to as fluorite, while the product that is mined is called fluorspar. It was used as a flux to help remove impurities while smelting metals like iron and aluminum. It also is used in products ranging from optical lenses to fluoride (derived from fluorite) in toothpaste. Fluorspar production peaked in the 1960s when an average of 118,820 tons was mined annually. Fluorspar mining eventually became unprofitable due to competition from overseas producers, coupled with the high costs of underground mining. The last mine in Illinois closed in 1995. Fluorspar is no longer mined in the United States.

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.

Brass Tomahawk Pipe

Image of Brass Tomahawk Pipe
As European and Native American cultures mingled, new technologies blended with tradition to create new uses for everyday objects. The brass tomahawk pipe became a popular accessory, as it was useful in the field as a tool or as a weapon of war. During ceremonies, it was used as a pipe to smoke with friends or to cement agreements. Tobacco would be added to the metal bowl (opposite the blade) and smoked through the hardwood handle. Many similar tomahawks were manufactured by Europeans, cast of metals like brass or hammered out of old rifle barrels.

Brass Crucifix

Image of Brass crucifix

Brass crucifix LaSalle Co., ~ 300 years old

A harbinger of a changing world.  French explorers and voyageurs arrive in the late 17th century.  Their presence will transform Native American life and foretell of even more profound change to come.  The forces of colonization nearly extinguish Native American life in Illinois.

Frog Effigy Pipe

Image of Frog Effigy Pipe

Frog effigy pipe Madison Co., ~ 800 - 900 years old

Carved in the image of a frog, this effigy pipe was created more than 700 years ago. It was found not far from East St. Louis in the American Bottoms area, which is also home to the City of Cahokia. The pipe is made from flint clay, likely obtained from the Ozark Highlands. The right forefoot holds what is likely a rattle to be used in ceremonies, such as those that include song and dance. The bowl to hold tobacco is on the frog’s back, and the draw hole is located near the hind legs.

Underwater Monster Bowl

Image of ceramic bowl
For two thousand years, many Native Americans in the southeastern United States believed their World was divided into three parts. There was the Upper World, where the life-giving sun was found; the Middle World was where people lived on the surface of the Earth; and finally, the Lower World, which was the source of fertility. According to legend, the Underwater Monster depicted on this bowl inhabited this Lower World, where it was admired and feared. Thunder, rain, water, and other powers were also attributed to it.

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