Growing a New Way of Life (4,000-600 years ago)
Native American gardeners domesticated a variety of native plants, producing surplus food and storing it for later consumption. This new way of life was accompanied by technological advancements such as pottery, more trade, and changes in social organization and religion. By 900 years ago, maize, a tropical grass hybrid from Mexico, was grown in Illinois. Maize production required more labor but yielded more food, both of which sparked population growth and unprecedented changes in every aspect of Native American life. Illinois’ first metropolis, Cahokia, a community of perhaps 20,000 people, commanded the economic, social, and political landscape of the Midwest for nearly three centuries.
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.
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.
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.
Gorgets are pendants that are worn on the chest and hung from a string or on a necklace. The term gorget typically refers to armor worn to protect the throat. A number of similar gorgets have been found throughout the Mississippi River Valley and in the southeastern United States. This gorget was found near Dickson Mounds and was made around A.D. 1300.
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.
Is it a two-headed bird or the outline of the head of a Cayman? The meaning of some objects remains unclear, but suggests a rich conception of the world as conceived by Native people living in Illinois about 2,000 years ago.