Our History

Our History

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), established February 1, 2010 as a Division of the Prairie Research Institute, is the product of a nearly century long concern by the University of Illinois to ensure the preservation and interpretation of the state's important archaeological resources.

1920s UI InvestigationsThe University initiated its investigations of the state’s rich archaeological heritage in the 1920s, just as the discipline of archaeology was being professionalized across the nation. Illinois was one of the early leaders in the development of archaeological methodology and theory with many of the early archaeologists from across the nation trained by University of Chicago field schools. The University of Illinois’ archaeological research began during this same period under the guidance of Warren K. Moorehead and A. R. Kelly, both of who conducted significant work at the Cahokia Mounds site near St. Louis. Subsequently, Moorehead initiated a “mound expedition” to explore and record the mounds of the Illinois River valley thus highlighting the valley’s rich archaeological remains associated with the Hopewell culture.

Warren K. MooreheadMoorehead was a central figure in establishing early archaeological agendas across the state undertaking extensive explorations in the Illinois River Valley and at Cahokia. He played a dominant role in bringing the Cahokia Mound site to public notice and convincing the state legislature to purchase the central core of the site in the 1920s.

Initially archeological endeavors at the university were carried out under the auspices of the Museum of Natural History (MNH) where the collections were housed. In the late 1950s Dr. John McGregor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology played a key role in establishing the structure of Illinois archaeology for years to come. In 1956, he took the lead in bringing the professional archaeological community together to form the not-for-profit Illinois Archaeological Survey (IAS) to promote and regulate professional conduct, facilitate research, and record archaeological resources. The IAS also played a role in joining with the university and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to create a transportation archaeology program to conduct highway salvage work. For nearly three decades the transportation archaeology program operated under the direction of Professor Charles J. Bareis. In 1994, this program was reorganized to create the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program under the direction of Dr. Thomas E. Emerson. This program has now been incorporated into the ISAS.

During this same period, Dr. McGregor was instrumental in the formation of a separate Department of Anthropology in 1960. With the creation of Department of Anthropology most archaeological endeavors and stewardship of the collections were transferred from the MNH. By the early 1960s, Department members Professor Charles Bareis and Professor Donald Lathrap were conducting major Cahokia-related field schools and excavations. Bareis’ Cahokia Mounds field schools,laboratory, and surveying courses became “required” for any archaeology student at the university and through those students he had a worldwide impact on field archaeology.

The late 1970s were a dynamic period at the university marked by a burst of activities in terms of campus interdisciplinary research as well as an expansion of statewide archaeological cultural resource investigations. It was during this period (1977) that the Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials (ATAM) program was created by a multidisciplinary group to further archaeometric studies.

In the late 1970s, the university acted as the prime contractor, with Bareis as the principal investigator, for the renowned IDOT-funded FAI-270 Archaeological Mitigation Project. This project set new standards for cultural resource management research in the United States and its publications, including 28 influential volumes on American Bottom prehistory and Cahokia-related sites, are well known throughout the world. That field research continues today, more than three decades after it was initiated.

Charles J. Bareis
Prof. Charles J. Bareis,
Director 1959–1993

Charles Bareis was an important figure in North American archaeology and his research generated more than half of the university’s Cahokia holdings as well as extensive transportation archaeology collections. Bareis was a key member of the archaeological community from 1959 to 1994. In this role he was a leader in the early professionalization of Illinois archaeology and in creating the university’s Illinois archaeology program. His input in establishing the inter-agency relationships with state and federal agencies made Illinois one of the early leaders in highway salvage and eventually compliance archaeology. Because he saw a need for a more formal program dedicated to archaeological cultural resource management as a result of Illinois highway construction, he formalized highway salvage work by creating the Resource Investigation Program (RIP) in 1976. When he retired in 1994, UI and IDOT reorganized RIP to broaden its mission to include research and public outreach and so created Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP). The establishment of ITARP was the product of IDOT's concern to develop a more centralized program to facilitate its cultural resource protection efforts and to ensure the preservation of the state's important archaeological resources. ITARP and its predecessors represent one of the oldest transportation research and cultural resources programs in the Eastern United States.

Dr. Thomas E. Emerson
Dr. Thomas E. Emerson
ITARP/ISAS Director,
Illinois State Archaeologist,

During the last 16 years, ITARP was the primary university unit carrying out scientific research on Illinois’ archaeological resources. Often operating in partnership with IDOT, faculty from several universities, avocational archaeologists, local historical societies, environmentalists, the general public, public officials, and developers—the organization has been able to make significant contributions to the interpretation, preservation and protection of the state’s archaeological resources. The joining of ITARP, ATAM, our public outreach and educational activities in February, 2010 into the new division of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey in the Prairie Research Institute enhances the university’s ability to contribute to the continued preservation of Illinois’ archaeological heritage while assisting in the promotion of sustainable economic development.

With the August 14, 2013 signature of Public Act 098-0346 by Governor Quinn, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) formally became one of the State Scientific Surveys comprising the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. Dr. Thomas E. Emerson was appointed to fill the new position of State Archaeologist that was created as part of the Act. His 40 years of involvement in Illinois archaeology provided a solid foundation for his position as Illinois’ first State Archaeologist.