On the Eve of European Exploration (600-300 years ago; 1400-1700)

The Cahokian way of life declined and then disappeared about 550 years ago. A different way of life emerged that included immigrant groups from other regions. Tribal groups hunted and gathered natural resources and cultivated maize, but their communities were smaller, their economy not as far-reaching, and their social organization was less complex. By 350 years ago, some tribes, such as the Kaskaskia, relocated to Illinois as European settlement on the east coast expanded.

Bison Scapula Hoe

Image of Bison scapula hoe.
After thousands of years of using stone, and to a lesser extent mussel shell digging tools, some Native people transformed the bison’s shoulder blade, or scapula, into digging tools to tend their gardens.

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.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Image of Ivory-billed Woodpecker compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left
This specimen of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) (here compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left) is not from Illinois. The only Illinois records we have are observations from naturalists, mostly in the 1800s. John James Audubon, the famous bird artist, encountered calling Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 1820s on both sides of the Ohio River where it meets the Mississippi River at Cairo. Southern Illinois was the far northern extent of the species at that time.

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. 

Cross-in-Circle Gorget

Image of cross-in-circle gorget
This pendant-like object, or gorget, was worn around the neck, probably suspended with a cord threaded through the holes on the outer edge. Another object may have been suspended from the opposite hole(s).

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.
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