curation staff

Back row, left to right: Noah Gammage, Goerge Vassilatos, Sara Pfannkuche, Tamira Brennan, Mary Hynes, Dan Bartlett.
Front row, left to right: Dawn Pagel, Trinity Rosa, Teresa Palomares, Georgia Abrams, Hannah Rucinski


Mission and Vision

The mission of the Curation Section is to serve the people of Illinois as stewards of its history by caring for the archaeological collections of the Illinois Department of Transportation and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. These collections are managed in a manner that facilitates their proper care and their appropriate use by and for descendant communities, professional researchers, students, and educators.

The ISAS Curation Section strives to be an exemplar of curatorial practice and collaboration whose long-term vision includes becoming a leading source of education in collections management, a clearinghouse for data on Illinois and near-regional archaeological collections, and a site where collections are activated by promoting their potential to those who seek to understand the past and find direction for the future.


archival space

ISAS cares for the collections of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the University of Illinois (U of I), and other entities. These include cultural items crafted by the first people to set foot in what is now Illinois to 20th-century materials, as well as documents associated with them. They include collections from the earliest archaeological excavations in Illinois to several of the largest archaeological projects carried out in the nation.

The New Mississippi River Bridge Project

excavations at East St. Louis

Excavations at the East St. Louis precinct

The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge majestically spans the Mississippi River between St. Clair County in Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. Underneath its very foundation is a rich indigenous landscape. From 2002-2007 and from 2008-2012, ISAS carried out investigations for the New Mississippi River Bridge project (NMRB) to identify and protect the cultural heritage that would be impacted by this undertaking.

Excavations at the two largest sites within the project’s right of way resulted in the second-largest archaeological investigation ever carried out in Illinois and generated one of the largest IDOT collections in ISAS’ repository: 3,950 ft3 of artifacts and an abundance of associated documentation. Although numerous research reports have been authored on these investigations (link), its potential for research and other uses is far from exhausted. The Curation Section fulfills regular requests for collections access and will maintain the organization and care of this and all IDOT collections so that they may serve all people of Illinois in perpetuity.

The Illinois Historic Sites Survey

The Illinois Historic Sites Survey (HSS) was initiated in 1971 by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) with the intention of facilitating decisions about how cultural resources could better be protected. The project spanned five years and was contracted to the Illinois Archaeological Survey, who sub-contracted this work to sixteen universities and museums. At the end of the HSS, 7,178 previously unrecorded archaeological sites were identified. Erosion or development has since destroyed many of these sites, leaving the documents and collections as our only manner of further investigation.

ISAS curates the administrative records as well as 273 ft3 of materials and 37.7 linear feet of documents from six of the institutions involved in the project. Since the scope of the HSS was primarily limited to briefly reporting the survey data, the more in-depth HSS documents held at ISAS and their associated materials are a resource positioned to provide invaluable additional information on Illinois’ earliest occupations.

ISAS Document Archive

early ISAS documentation

Examples of some of the earliest original documentation held in ISAS Documents Archive.

While the artifacts collected from an archaeological site receive much attention, the documents produced communicate information about their discovery, their provenience, and their significance within the site and are essential to interpretation. The ISAS Document Archive is comprised both of records from IDOT projects as well as the earliest archeological investigations sponsored by the University of Illinois. It includes over 1,800 linear feet of documents, 12,000 maps, over 100,000 physical images, 40 VHS tapes, and more.

Collections Donations

Individuals who collected archaeological material throughout Illinois have long looked to ISAS to provide a long-term home for their collections in a place where their material could make significant contributions to scientific study, education, and collaboration. ISAS currently holds 85 of such collections on behalf of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Among these are items from sites that have since been destroyed by modern development, and so provide an invaluable link to those lost places.


Wilkinson Donation (2023-032)

Dr. Scott J. Wilkinson in 1951, displaying items from his personal collection that are now part of the IDOT donations.

The Wilkinson collection includes several thousand objects, most of which were recovered throughout Illinois between 1910 and 1970 by two generations of the Wilkinson family. The collection covers all time periods and includes everything from expedient tools to well-made banner stones.


Duling Collection 

Since 1925, Duling spent many hours searching the plowed fields in and around Newman, Illinois eventually amassing a sizeable collection of stone tools some of which date back over 10,000 years.


George Johnson Collection

Johnson's massive donation is the product of a lifetime of collecting on sites near his home. He donated the artifacts to ISAS to ensure that the collection remained available to future researchers. Johnson has also worked with ISAS staff to create site forms, maps, and inventories that all document his research and his findings, which contribute to the archaeological knowledge among the tributaries in the Rock River Basin.

Read about more donated collections that have been documented by ISAS.



The Curation Section has numerous ongoing projects. These include improving the condition, accessibility, and inventory of collections, making the most efficient use of our repository space in anticipation of future growth, and research/education projects. Several of our current projects are highlighted below.

Institute for Field Research Field Schools in Curation

The Curator of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Dr. Tamira Brennan, partners with the Institute for Field Research (IFR) to offer the unique opportunity of a field school in curation. This intensive summer program is certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and allows students to experience many aspects of collections work. Its goal is to offer the training and background needed to be a well-rounded archaeologist, whether working with collections or in one of the many other aspects of the field of archaeology.

During this course, students learn best practices on how to assess, intake, process, record, and store archaeological artifacts and their associated documentation, gain an understanding of the ethical and legal practices surrounding collections, and learn about career paths to which collections work might apply. They also learn the excavation-to-curation relationship, and even participate in excavation to enhance their training.

students in curation course

2021 IFR students sort, catalog, and rehouse legacy collections

University Collections Inventory and Rehabilitation

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) cares for approximately 2,000 ft3 of archaeological materials and ~90 linear feet of associated documentation under the jurisdiction of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Most of these are legacy collections, meaning they did not originate within ISAS. Provisions for their long-term care were not offered when they were transferred to ISAS in 2003.

In 2021, the curation section began an assessment of UIUC collections that led to a project outline for their full inventory and, where necessary, rehabilitation, and in 2022, UIUC’s Chancellor agreed to fund the resulting work proposal. This project assures that the University can continue to carry out important work with descendant communities and properly manage the collections. This project also provides the opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to gain experience relevant to their future careers by working closely with senior staff to complete the work.

student rehousing collection into archival bags

A UIUC undergraduate student rehouses legacy collections into archivally stable bags.

IDOT Flotation Sample Rehousing Project

Appropriate physical space for proper curation can be both costly and scarce, so it is a goal of ISAS Curation Section to ensure that the space we have is used wisely. One of our ongoing projects is to address materials that could take up significantly less space if rehoused. During the first three months of rehousing, staff and student workers have reduced the original size of the targeted collection by 64%, with a projection of over 1,200 ft3 of newly available space when rehousing is completed. Read more about our progress on this project.

items before and after rehousing

Collections before rehousing, left, and after rehousing, right


For inquiries on ISAS’ holdings, collections use, or potential donations of your privately collected archaeological material to IDOT, please contact