IDOT Archaeology and Tribal Consultation
Brad H. Koldehoff
Cultural Resources Coordinator
Prairie Research Institute
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Dr. John A. Walthall
Illinois Department of Transportation
Paul Mickey Science Series Lecture, Illinois State Museum
On the north side of East St. Louis, underneath the current post-industrial surface where the National Stockyards once stood, surprisingly well preserved, are hundreds of ancient Native American house floors and cooking pits. These remnants of daily life are related to those of the earliest Mississippian culture (ca. 1050-1150 A.D.) at the world-famous Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Archaeological excavations conducted by the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) in advance of major transportation projects have, for decades, discovered new and important information about the peoples of Illinois’ past. In their presentation, Koldehoff and Walthall highlighted significant new ISAS discoveries, including those made recently at the East St. Louis site (for the New Mississippi River Bridge). They also addressed IDOT and ISAS’s award-winning efforts [link http://www.isas.illinois.edu/news/FHWA-2011EEA.shtml] to incorporate federally recognized American Indian tribes into the planning of transportation projects and the documentation of Illinois’ past.
According to Koldehoff, “We are building metaphoric bridges by developing links and connections to the tribes with whom we coordinate, while at the same time ISAS is clearing the way for IDOT to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River at East St. Louis.”
Koldehoff illustrated that under present-day East St. Louis the ancient remnants of the Mississippian city of East St. Louis is largely intact contrary to what early scholars once thought. “Because of the new route I-70 with take through East St. Louis to the new bridge, ISAS is able to gather new information about Mississippian culture. Instead of progress getting in the way of preservation here, the stockyards and historic fill actually helped preserve the site,” said Koldehoff. It shows us a prehistoric city containing remnants of daily life—hundreds of house floors dating to the twelfth century AD.. This community was an extension of Cahokia, perhaps likened to a suburb and river port, and it demonstrates that the Cahokia region was more densely occupied and socially and politically complex than previously thought.
Items found at the East St. Louis site by ISAS include rare carved stone figurines and the everyday remnants of life (house floors which contain debris and artifacts), preserved charcoal (logs which tells which kind of wood they used for their homes), animal bones from their meals, and charred corncobs which tells us about their crops. Archaeological investigations are designed to recovery information not just artifacts.
ISAS, a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois and IDOT have cooperated through an intergovernmental governmental agreement, for over half-a-century in preserving Illinois important archaeological and historical past.
To hear a snippet of Koldehoff’s presentation, visit:
[posted December 6, 2011]