Illinois State Museum

Partner Address: 

502 South Spring Springfield, IL

City, State, Zip: 

Springfield, IL

Partner Phone: 

(217) 782-7386

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.

Cahokia Mounds Bird Man Tablet

Image of sandstone tablet
This small sandstone tablet, only about four inches tall, shows a man in a bird costume (possibly representing an eagle or peregrine falcon). The reverse side features a crosshatch design that may depict a snakeskin. 

Stone Mace

stone mace, approx. 7" tall, from southern Illinois
In the early 20th century, a farmer living near Pearl, Illinois, found this object in a cultivated field. About 7 inches tall, the outline of this object is comparable to that illustrated on a marine shell from Oklahoma. It was made from Mill Creek chert, a glass-like stone found in Union County, Illinois, and the same material used to make hoes and so-called dance swords, an object also portrayed in some of the shell engravings.

Emmons Rattle Mask

Image of Emmons rattle mask
Found in Fulton County, the Emmons rattle mask, which dates from the Middle Mississippian Period about 800 years ago, is extremely rare. There has been nothing else like it found in Illinois or elsewhere. Because it is made of wood, probably cedar, the odds of such an object surviving so long are extremely low.

Pottery Bowl

image of pottery bowl  with spoonbill decoration from Pike County, Illinois.
Two thousand years ago, the Native American artisan who created this small clay pot drew an abstract image of what appears to be a bird in the soft clay. What is the meaning of the image? Such puzzles are common in archaeology, and answers generally begin with the phrase "to the best of our knowledge."

Ceramic Figurine

Image of ceramic figurine from Jackson Co
Willie Smith found this elegant, 2,000-year-old fired-clay figurine in Jackson County in 1950. It portrays a woman with a distinctive hairstyle, and she's seated with one leg crossed over the other. It appears that there is no hair on the right side of her head. Hair on the top and left side of her head appears to be drawn together, and what may be a braid extends to her left shoulder. There appear to be circular disks attached to her earlobes. Identified as ear-spools, archeologists have recovered examples of these spools made from bone, stone, and sometimes copper.

Cultivated Plants

Image of several plants cultivated by native people.
Given how crucial they were in the development of North American agriculture, it's ironic that today these plants are considered to be unexceptional. Two of the specimens were collected along roadsides, and one was collected along a railroad right of way. Another is referred to, without ceremony, as a weed. But these plants sowed the seeds of what would be the domestication of plants, a change that laid the foundation for agricultural societies to develop.

Atlatl

Image of Atlatl hook

Atlatl hook Pike Co., ~ 2,000 years old

The Atlatl (derived from the Aztec word Nahuatl, which means spear thrower) was a simple device that helped hunters magnify the force with which they could propel a spear. This invention made its appearance at least 10,000 years ago (8,000 B.C.) and was in wide use during the Archaic Period (8,000 to 1,000 B.C.).

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