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CAI curator Heather Lapham examines a cow skullspacerCeramic vessels from Black Mesa, Arizonaspacera student removes soil from an excavation
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Current Research - Southern Illinois

The CAI conducts ongoing research and excavations in southern Illinois. Descriptions of some of our most recent projects follow.

Cherokee Trail of Tears Research—2013

The Cherokee Trail of Tears (TOT) is associated with the forced removal of the Cherokee people of Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and other parts of the Southeast to the western United States in the late 1830s. From 1837 to 1839, thousands of Cherokee traveled through southern Illinois on what was known as the Golconda-Cape Girardeau Trace (now Illinois Route 146). Traveling on foot, horseback, and in wagons, the Cherokee camped along this road, bought supplies from settlers and tavern keepers, and buried those who died along this route. In 2013, the CAI engaged in three separate Trail of Tears–related projects for three separate agencies—the National Park Service (NPS), the USDA Forest Service, and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA).

Trail of Tears map

The project we conducted for the NPS in 2012–2013 consisted of an archival and historical study of the types and number of TOT-related sites in southern Illinois associated with the Cherokee Removal. Such properties included taverns, mills, residences, stores, ferries, cemeteries, and campgrounds. We examined the distribution of the above properties within a 10-mile wide corridor (five miles north and five miles south) of Route 146, the modern version of the trail that extended for 55 miles from Golconda on the Ohio River in the east to several ferry locations on the Mississippi River in the west. The results of this research were used to create a GIS database showing the distribution of cultural properties in both tables and figures (see below). A total of 545 cultural and 31 natural (springs) properties were located within the corridor. Of these, 414 were mappable as to location. Thirty-eight of these sites have associated oral history or written documents that link them to the Trail of Tears. Fifteen of these sites could be identified to specific location, while 23 could be located in only a general sense.

GIS Trail of Tears GIS map of 1830s property owners along the Trail of Tears in Union County, Illinois.

In the spring of 2013, the CAI assisted Shawnee National Forest archaeologists in the testing of two sites—11U316 and 11U615—located on Forest Service land along the southern branch of the trail that once led to a ferry used by the Cherokee to cross the Mississippi River and enter into Missouri. Indications that these sites potentially were associated with the Cherokee TOT included that one (11U316) possessed a spring, which could have supplied water to Cherokee emigrants, while the other (11U615) was known to have produced an early nineteenth-century smoking pipe manufactured by Moravian missionaries for trade to the Cherokee and other southeastern Native American peoples. The field crews for both sites consisted of volunteers enrolled in the Forest Service’s “Passport in Time” volunteer archaeology. Testing of site 11U615 recovered pre-1820 green shell edged creamware ceramic flatware sherds. This indicated that the spring at the site was in use in the early 1800s and potentially could have represented a stopping point for the Cherokee to obtain water for themselves and their animals. Archaeological testing of site 11U316 failed to recover additional early 1800s artifacts similar to the Moravian smoking pipe but did encounter the remains of a substantial prehistoric Mississippian period (AD 1000–1500) village that contained subsurface features.

Passport in Time volunteer at archaeological dig

Passport in Time volunteers at site 11U615.

In August 2013, the CAI conducted investigations for IHPA at the Bridges Tavern site in Johnson County, which is located directly on the Trail of Tears. The site currently consists of the archaeological remains of the Bridges family tavern and a one-room log structure called the “Wayside Store.” Oral histories (ca. 1818–1940) collected in the 1930s stated that Cherokee taveling along the “Trail of Tears” purchased alcohol and other supplies at the Wayside Store while journeying through southern Illinois in 1837–1839. The goal of the investigations was to determine if the structure indeed could date to that period. Archival research revealed that the Bridges family indeed were selling alcohol and operating a store at the site as early as the 1840s, supporting the oral history. Architectural analysis of the Wayside Store also revealed that it was a pre-1800 structure that potentially could date to the 1830s.


Bridges Tavern, ca. 1934

Archaeological investigations around and within the structure recovered early nineteenth-century artifacts and indicated that it represented an outbuilding (such as a store) rather than a residence. Our conclusion is that the combined lines of evidence—oral history, archaeological, architectural, and archival—indicate a strong likelihood that the Wayside Store indeed does date to the Trail of Tears (1837–1839) period. As such, it represents one of the only structures still standing in southern Illinois associated with this event.

Bridges Tavern site excavations

Excavations adjacent to log “store” building (left) at the Bridges Tavern site.

PXRF Rock Art Study – 2013-2014

In 2013, the CAI was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society (NGS) to conduct a portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF) analysis of the pigments in up to 10 Native American pictograph sites in southern Illinois. The sample sites contained pictographs believed to date to the Mississippian (N = 8) and historic or post-1673 (N = 2) periods. Working in cooperation with Dr. Jan Simek of the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, CAI staff collected data from a number of pictographs at four of the sites in spring 2013. We plan to visit the remainder of the sites in February 2014 and submit the results of the analyses to the National Geographic Society by summer 2014. We also will present a paper giving the results of the PXRF analysis at the Society of American Archaeology (SAA) meetings in Austin, Texas, in April 2014. Conducting PXRF analysis

Dr. Jan Simek (white hat) and Doug Kosik (CAI) conducting PXRF analysis
of possible historic period paintings at the Parsons site in southern Illinois.

Parsons site pictograph

Parsons site pictograph.

Crawford Farm Site Report Completion—2013–2014

The CAI, as part of a contract with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), is also completing the artifact analyses and report of investigations for the historic period Crawford Farm site (11Ri-81). Located in the Rock River valley of northwestern Illinois, the Crawford Farm site originally was excavated by Elaine Bluhm and Dr. John McGregor of the University of Illinois in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Sauk leader Blackhawk, who is believed to have lived at the
Crawford Farm site when he was a boy and a young man.

This work revealed that the site primarily consisted of the remains of a major late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century Sauk village (Saukenauk) possibly associated with the famous Sauk leader Blackhawk.

UofI excavations at Crawford Farm site1950s–1960s University of Illinois excavations at the Crawford Farm site.

The U of I excavations encountered hundreds of pit features and ten structures associated with the Sauk and earlier occupations. A report of investigations, however, was never completed for the site.

Crawford Farm site dog burialExcavation of a Sauk dog burial, Crawford Farm site.

The artifacts, excavation forms, maps, and other records associated with the U of I excavations are currently on loan to the CAI for use in completion of the Crawford Farm site report. The CAI staff have completed the artifact analyses, with the entire report, which will be made available to other researchers and the general public as part of the ISAS publication series, anticipated in 2014.

artifacts from Crawford Farm siteCrawford Farm site artifacts at the CAI curation facility.
Kousik analyzing Crawford Farm remainsDoug Kosik (CAI) analyzing Crawford Farm brass/copper kettle remains.

Civil War Research: Mound City Naval Base – 2013

The CAI is currently creating a GIS database for the U.S. naval base (1862–1872) at Mound City, Illinois, on the Ohio River. Established in 1862, the naval base was the home of the U.S. Mississippi River Squadron.

aerial view of Mound City and Cairo, Illinois
Location Mound City and Cairo, Illinois, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

Comprised of over 200 ironclads, timberclads, hospital ships, transports, and other vessels, Mississippi River Squadron, under the commands of Commodore Foote and Admiral David Dixon Porter, was instrumental in breaking the Confederate stranglehold on the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers.

Mississippi River Squadron and flagship BlackhawkThe Mississippi River Squadron off Mound City, with Admiral Porter’s flagship Blackhawk (far left) in the lead.

The boats of the Mississippi River Squadron fought in a number of the most famous engagements in the west, including the battles of Belmont, Ft. Donelson, Ft. Henry, Island No. 10, and Vicksburg.

Ironclad USS CairoThe ironclad USS Cairo, which was constructed at Mound City.

The naval base itself consisted of a shipyard or marine ways, foundry, marine barracks, supply offices, hospital, and other facilities. All of these structures, with the exception of the marine ways, have long since vanished. Using a series of Civil War and later maps, photographs, charts, and other documents, Ph.D. student Go Matsumoto (CAI, SIU Anthropology Department) has constructed a GIS database for Mound City that identifies the locations of the naval yard and other Civil War–era facilities as well as a now-vanished very large prehistoric mound that gave Mound City its name.

GIS of Mound City
GIS overlay of Mound City showing locations of Civil War–era buildings (red),
naval yard facilities (light colored blocks on shore), and mooring stations
of Civil War vessels in the Ohio River (light colored blocks in water).

Through the construction of this database, we were able to identify several areas of the naval base that could potentially be investigated through archaeology. We also were able to identify the mooring station of Admiral Porter’s flagship, the Blackhawk, which accidentally burned during the last week of the war while anchored at Mound City. We are hopeful that Go’s study will be a first step in the further investigation of this nationally important Civil War site.

GIS database protocol
Mound City GIS database protocol.


Kincaid Mounds Investigations

Since 2003, SIUC archaeologists Brian Butler (CAI) and Paul Welch (Dept. of Anthropology) have been engaged in a long-term program of research at this poorly known Mississippian mound center. Located in the Black Bottom of the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, this 150-plus acre complex straddles the Massac-Pope County line. The Kincaid site was first investigated by University of Chicago archaeologists under the direction of Faye-Cooper Cole from 1934 to 1944, resulting in the well-known 1951 volume Kincaid, a Prehistoric Illinois Metropolis.

The initial goals were to assess the organization and complexity of the site and chronicle its emergence and demise as a major mound center, none of which were adequately documented by the previous work. The plan was to employ large-scale remote sensing and pursue specific questions that could be addressed by small, targeted excavations. The primary vehicle of the fieldwork was to be the annual archaeological field school, jointly supported by the Department and the Center.

A key aspect of the work has been a large-scale geophysical survey of the Massac County portions of the site, completed in early 2009. The survey has primarily used magnetometry. This work has been accomplished principally by R. Berle Clay (Cultural Resource Analysts, Lexington, Ky), Michael L. Hargrave (US Army COE), and Staffan Peterson (Glenn Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University, now Indiana Department of Natural Resources). Additional survey contributions have been made by John E. and John A. Schwegman of Metropolis, Illinois.

The results of the geophysical survey, along with the results of excavations targeted on the basis of the survey results, have been eye-opening, revealing that the site is much larger and more complex than originally thought. The new work has brought the realization that there are many more mounds at the site than previously believed (most of them small) and that habitation areas are much more extensive than surface artifact distributions had suggested. Below is a brief listing of the fieldwork to date:

2003 Small-scale testing was done at the southeast corner of the main plaza to determine feasibility of locating an observation platform and parking area there. Work confirmed the presence of the remnants of a small mound (Mxo2) and encountered a heavily used Baumer (Early/Middle Woodland) occupation surface (Butler and Welch 2006).

2005 Excavations in the southwestern corner of state property confirmed the presence of a low platform mound (called the West Mound) and adjacent habitation areas, well outside the previously suspected western boundary of the site. The habitation surface, which contains numerous structures, was hidden under 40 cm of alluvium.

2006 Known and suspected palisade lines on both the northern and western edges of the site were explored. Work confirmed the existence of a north-south palisade on the west side, previously indicated in aerial photographs and geophysical survey. A separate excavation was done by CAI in a 11 x 11 m block for the observation platform adjacent to the lakefront road west of the 2003 work. Some remnant Mississippian features were found, but mostly large refuse-filled Baumer pits (Early and Middle Woodland) were excavated.

2007 Excavations took place on the top of the large mound, Mxo8, confirming the existence of a 22 m diameter circular wall trench structure at or just below the present surface. The structure had been identified in geophysical survey of the mound top by John E. Schwegman. A large central posthole was also discovered. Evidence suggests the structure had several building phases and was probably roofed.

2008 Work took place in the northwestern part of the state land confirming the existence of a previously unsuspected east-west palisade line, identified in a 2008 geophysical survey. A possible mound remnant was tested but proved not to be a mound. A house complex in the same area was also investigated. Confirmation of this “new” palisade line was an important development, extending the western edge of the site much farther to the west and adding at least 13 ha to the defined site area. This palisade would have enclosed the West Mound complex within the fortified area.