Jason's Journal: The Birthplace of American Archaeology

By Jason Beverlin
Deputy Director of the Illinois River Program

June 2008 — Besides being an important ecological site, Fulton County, where Emiquon spreads across 7,100 acres, is also often considered to be the birthplace of American archaeology. In 1927, a man named Don F. Dickson began conducting excavations on his farm in Fulton County in central Illinois. This activity set off other excavations in the area, which caught the attention of the archaeology department at the University of Chicago. As the story goes, the department was strapped for resources during the Great Depression, unable to do archeological research out of the country. So they came to central Illinois instead.

What they found here was a series of Native American burial sites that hinted at deep warfare and conflict. Today, Dickson Mounds Museum documents and preserves the known history of Fulton County, including one of Don Dickson’s original excavations. The teams from the University of Chicago developed and used procedures that still guide field work today, establishing Fulton County as the birthplace of American archaeology.

Across the road from the newly reborn Thompson Lake is a ridgeline that contains hundreds of generations of Native American villages. We are very excited to announce that Michigan State University has established an archeological project at Emiquon to research these villages. For two months for each of the next three to five years, teams from Michigan State University will conduct excavations at Emiquon. Already they have uncovered two houses—one Mississippian and one Oneota—as well as storage pits, stone hoes and pottery.

You can find out more about this joint venture in person on Saturday, June 21, 2008. Dickson Mounds Museum invites the public to an open house from 9am to 1pm to view the ongoing excavations of the Morton Village, a prehistoric Native American site that dates to about A.D. 1300. Please visit the Dickson Mounds Web site for more details.


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