Dr. Thomas E. Emerson

Staff Directory

Dr. Thomas E. Emerson, RPA

Dr. Thomas E. Emerson

Emeritus Professor, Department of Anthropology
Research Affiliate, ISAS

MA, PhD Anthropology, University of Wisconsin
BA Political Science and Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

 Email Dr. Emerson
 (217) 244-4244
 Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

General Interest/Area of Focus

Thomas Emerson is a specialist in North American Eastern Woodlands archaeology, especially of the Upper Mississippi River Valley region. His research has generally centered on the archaeology, religious ideology, and political economy of late prehistoric Mississippian cultures. However, his interests are diverse and his work has included mortuary analyses, subsistence studies, archaeological ethnicity, archaeometric sourcing of geologic materials, faunal analysis, Great Lakes maritime research, archaeological law and compliance, heritage management, and cultural resource management. He has conducted fieldwork throughout the Great Lakes region, the Plains (Missouri Trench), and Norway. Most recently he served as Principal Director of the Mississippi River Bridge Project that was one of the largest excavations in the country (2009-2018) and demonstrated the urban nature of Cahokia – this project was recognized as one of the ten most important field discoveries in the world in 2015 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Emerson is dedicated to the publication of archeological materials and in this role has founded nine publication series --most recently, Issues in Eastern Woodlands Archaeology with Timothy Pauketat for AltaMira Press. He has edited/co-edited fifteen volumes and has served as journal editor for South Dakota Archeology, Illinois Archaeology, and currently edited the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology since 2012. For many years he was book review editor for Illinois Archaeology. His professional services have included activities/memberships with such groups as the National Association of State Archaeologists; Committee on Public Archaeology, Society for American Archaeology; the Illinois Interagency Coal Mining Committee; Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials Steering Committee, Midcontinental Archaeometry Working Group, UIUC; RPA Recruitment Committee; and the SAA Cultural Resource Management Award Committee. He was also the primary author of Illinois’ major archaeological laws, Archaeological and Paleontological Resources Protection Act (20 ILCS 3435) and the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440), as well as portions of the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act (20 ILCS 3420).

Current Research

Pipestone Sourcing Research. Joint project with Randall Hughes, Illinois State Geological Survey and Sarah Wisseman, Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials Program, to identify the pipestone sources used for Cahokia-style figurines and Hopewell effigy and plain platform pipes. Currently developing PIMA technology to source artifacts throughout the North American midcontinent. Most recently our research has considered Middle Woodland uses of catlinite and Illinois and Ohio pipestones in the midcontinent.

Upper Mississippian Research. This research focuses on diet, health, and mortuary practice of Upper Mississippian populations in the Midwest and the impact of the Cahokian political, religious, and cultural florescence on these populations. It involves analysis of physical attributes of populations including isotopic and C14 data and a reanalysis of earlier cultural and mortuary evidence collected by UIUC investigators.

Cahokian Urbanization Research. Project began in 1993 and involves the detailed re-examination of the physical anthropology, mortuary practices, isotope analysis, C14 dating, and cultural history of the emergence and decline of the Cahokian polity.

Previous Positions

2013 to 2018 (retired)  Illinois State Archaeologist, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2010 to 2018 (retired) Director, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1998 to 2018 Adjunct Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Urbana-Champaign

1998–2008 Director, Laboratory of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1994–2009 Director, Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1984–1994 Chief Archaeologist/State Archeologist, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

1979–1982 Site Director, FAI-270 Archaeological Mitigation Project, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

1978–1979 Field Director, Lake Francis Case and Crow Creek Projects, University of South Dakota

1976–1977, 1982–1984 Private Archaeological Consultant

1973–1974 Field Director, Orendorf Project, Upper Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Program


2019 Co-Recipient of Charles J. Bareis Distinguished Service Award presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey.  This award honors those individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to Illinois archaeology and/or the IAS. Awarded to the Upper Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Foundation for its efforts in salvaging (1971-1978), curating, and analyzing the multiple Mississippian villages at the Orendorf Villages sites, Fulton County, Illinois.

2018 Recipient of the Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois’ Distinguished Research Scientist Award, April 11.

2018 Festschrift.  Archaeology & Ancient Religion in the American Midcontinent, (Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson), edited by Brad Koldehoff and Timothy R. Pauketat, pp. 1-368. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.

2017 Nominated for the Shanghai Archaeological Forum Research Award for New Insights into the Origins of Complexity in Eastern North America: Isotopes and Maize.

2017 Festschrift. Cahokia and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson, edited by John A. Walthall and David J. Nolan.  Illinois Archaeology, Vol. 29:1-463.

2016 Festschrift. Cahokia and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson, edited by John A. Walthall and David J. Nolan.  Illinois Archaeology, Vol. 28:1-566.

2016 Society for American Archaeology’s Award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management. Presented for Research at the SAA Annual meeting, April 8, Orlando, FL.

2015 Shanghai Archaeological Forum Field Discovery Award for Rediscovery and Large-Scale Excavation of Cahokia’s East St. Louis Precinct. Award presented by the Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing in recognition of being one of the top ten most important archaeological field discovery in the world, 2015.

2014 Midwest Archaeological Conference Distinguished Career Award. Presented at the Midwest Archaeological Conference 58th Annual meeting, October 2-4, Champaign IL.

2014 Illinois Archaeology Career Achievement Award. Presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey at the 58th Annual Meeting, October 2, Champaign, IL.

2014 Charles R. McGimsey III – Hester A. Davis Distinguished Service Award. Presented by the Register of Professional Archaeologists at the Society of American Archaeology meetings, Austin, TX, April 25.

2011 FHWA Environment Excellence Award for Archaeological Investigations of New Mississippi River Bridge. Presented at International Conference on Ecology and Transportation, Seattle WA, August 21–25.

2010 Exemplary Human Environment Initiative Award– Project Notification System for Section 106 Tribal Consultation (IDOT-BDE). Presented for development and implementation of a web-based process of tribal consultations.

2002 The Robert L. Stigler, Jr., Lectures in Archaeology, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. November 21, 2002.

2001 Department of Anthropology nominee for the Chancellor Academic Professional’s Excellence Award.

1997 Distinguished Service Award. Department of Anthropology, UIUC.

1996 Charles J. Bareis Distinguished Service Award presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey for “accomplishments that are extraordinary in every sense of the word and are of a positive and lasting quality.” Awarded for organizing a four-year effort to save the Grand Village of the Illinois from destruction by development.

Selected Bibliography

2019 The Dilemma of Historic Archaeology in Illinois: A Personal Narrative. In Possible Futures for the Recent Past: A Chronological and Resource-Based Framework for Historic Site Research Design in Illinois, edited by Robert Mazrim, pp. xx-xx.  Studies in Archaeology No. 13. Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

2019 Mortuary Practices, Cultural Context, Bayesian Chronology, and Maize Consumption among Terminal Late Woodland Societies in Northeastern Illinois (Thomas E. Emerson, Kjersti E. Emerson, Kristin M. Hedman, and Matthew A. Fort).  Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 44(2):149-180.

2018 Expanding the Strontium Isoscape for the American Midcontinent: Identifying Potential Places of Origin for Cahokia and Pre-Columbian Migrants. (K. Hedman, P. Slater, M. Fort, T. Emerson, J. Lambert).  Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 22: 202-213.

2018 Greater Cahokia-Chiefdom, State, or City?  Urbanism in the North American Midcontinent, AD 1050-1250.  In Revealing Greater Cahokia, North America’s First Native City: Rediscovery and Large-Scale Excavations of the East St. Louis Precinct, edited by Thomas E. Emerson, Brad H. Koldehoff, and Tamira K. Brennan, pp. 487-535. Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Studies in Archaeology No. 12. University of Illinois, Champaign.

2018 Creating Greater Cahokia: The Cultural Content and Context. In Revealing Greater Cahokia, North America's First Native City. Rediscovery and Large-Scale Excavations of the East St. Louis Precinct, edited by Thomas E. Emerson, Brad H. Koldehoff, and Tamira K. Brennan, pp. 25-58. Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Studies in Archaeology No. 12. University of Illinois, Champaign.

2017 Projectile Points and the Illinois Landscape: People, Time, and Place. (R. Reber, S. Boles, T. Emerson, M. Evans, T. Loebel, D. McElrath and D. Nolan).  Studies in Archaeology 11. Illinois State Archaeological Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

2017 Excavating Communities: Lewis R. Binford and the Interpretation of the Archaeological Record in Illinois (T. Emerson and D. McElrath). Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 42(3):244-265.

2016 “Paradigms Lost: Reconfiguring Cahokia’s Mound 72 Beaded Burial.” (T. Emerson, K. Hedman, E. Hargrave, D. Cobb, and A. Thompson). American Antiquity 81(3):405–425.

2016 “The Dangers of Diversity: The Consolidation and Dissolution of Cahokia, Native North America’s First Urban Polity.” (T. Emerson and K. Hedman). In Beyond Collapse: Archaeological Perspectives on Resilience, Revitalization, and Transformation in Complex Societies, edited by Ronald K. Faulseit, pp. 147–175. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 42.  Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.

2015 “The Earth Goddess Cult at Cahokia.” In Medieval Mississippians: The Cahokian World, edited by T. Pauketat and S. Alt, pp. 54–60. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, NM.

2015 “An American Indian City.” (T. Pauketat, T. Emerson, M. Farkas, and S. Baires). In Medieval Mississippians: The Cahokian World, edited by T. Pauketat and S. Alt, pp. 21–31. School for Advanced Research Press, Santa Fe, NM.

2014 “Immigrants at the Mississippian Polity of Cahokia: Strontium Isotope Evidence for Population Movement.” Slater, P.A., K.M. Hedman, and T.E. Emerson.  Journal of Archaeological Science 44:117–127.

2013 “The Allure of the Exotic: Reexamining the Use of Local and Distant Pipestone Quarries in Ohio Hopewell Pipe Caches.” (Thomas E. Emerson, Kenneth B. Farnsworth, Sarah U. Wisseman, and Randall E. Hughes). American Antiquity78(1):48-67.

2013 “A Mississippian Conflagration at the East St. Louis Civic-Ceremonial Precinct in Illinois and Its Political-Historical Implications.” (T. Pauketat, A. Fortier, S. Alt, T. Emerson). Journal of Field Archaeology. (Accepted).

2012 “Ritual Black Drink Consumption at Cahokia.” (Patricia L. Crown, Thomas E. Emerson, Jiyan Gu, W. Jeffrey Hurst, Timothy R. Pauketat, and Timothy Ward). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Vol. 109(35):13944-13949.

2012 “Cahokia Interaction and Ethnogenesis in the Northern Midcontinent (Chapter 33).” In The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, edited by Timothy R. Pauketat, pp.398-409. University of Oxford Press, Oxford and New York.

2012 “Re-envisioning Eastern Woodlands Archaic Origins (Chapter 37).” (Dale L. McElrath and Thomas E. Emerson). In The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, edited by Timothy R. Pauketat, pp. 448-459. University of Oxford Press, Oxford and New York.

2012 “Managing the Unexpected: The East St. Louis Mound Group and the New Mississippi River Bridge.” (T. Emerson and B. Koldehoff). The SAA Archaeological Record, November, pp. 17-21.

2012 “Refining the Identification of Native American Pipestone Quarries in the Midcontinental United States.” (Sarah U. Wisseman, Randall E. Hughes, Thomas E. Emerson, Kenneth B. Farnsworth). Journal of Archaeological Science 39:2496-2505.

2012 “Oakwood Mound: A Langford Mortuary Site in Will County, Illinois.” (Michael Strezewski, Kristin M. Hedman, and Thomas E. Emerson). The Wisconsin Archeologist 93(2):3-107.

2011 “Sourcing and Interpreting the St. Francois Raptor Figurine.” (Thomas E. Emerson and Steven L. Boles). Illinois Archaeology 23(1-2):158-172.

2010 “Close to Home? Pipestone Quarry Utilization in the Mid-continental United States.” (S. Wisseman, R. Hughes, T. Emerson and K. Farnsworth). In Ancient Mines and Quarries: A Trans-Atlantic Perspective edited by M. Brewer-LaPorta, A. Burke, and D. Field, pp. 142-161. Oxbow Books, Oxford.

2010 “Langford Mortuary Patterns as Reflected in the Material Service Quarry Site in the Upper Illinois River Valley.” (Thomas E. Emerson, Kristin M. Hedman, Robert E. Warren, and Mary L. Simon). The Wisconsin Archeologist Vol. 91(1):1-77.

2010 “Constructing the Past: Essays in Honor of John A. Walthall.” (Volume editor, T. Emerson). Illinois Archaeology Vol. 22, Nos. 1 and 2.

2010 “Contextualizing Flint Clay Cahokia Figures at the East St. Louis Mound Center.” (Thomas Emerson and Steve Boles). Illinois Archaeology 22(2):473-490.

2010 “AMS 14C Dating of Human Bones using Sequential Pyrolysis and Combustion of Collagen.” (Hong Wang, Stanley H. Ambrose, Kristin M. Hedman, Thomas E. Emerson). Radiocarbon 52(1): pp 157-163.

2009 “The Eastern Woodlands Archaic and the Tyranny of Theory.” (T. Emerson and D. McElrath). In Archaic Societies: Diversity and Complexity Across the Midcontinent, edited by T. Emerson, D. McElrath, and A. Fortier, pp. 23-38. State University of New York Press, Albany.

2008 “Locating American Indian Religion at Cahokia and Beyond.” (T.E. Emerson, S.M. Alt, T.R. Pauketat). In Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World, edited by Lars Fogelin, pp. 216-236. Occasional Paper No. 36, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Illinois.

2008 “Historical-Processual Archaeology and Culture Making: Unpacking the Southern Cult and Mississippian Religion.” (T. Emerson and T. Pauketat). In Belief in the Past: Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion, edited by David.S. Whitley and Kelley Hays-Gilpin, pp.167-188. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

2007 “Cahokia and the Evidence for Late Pre-Columbian Warfare in the North American Midcontinent.” Chapter contribution in Problems in Paradise: Conflict and Violence Among the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, edited by Richard J. Chacon and Ruben G. Mendoza. Submitted to University of Arizona, Tucson.

2004 “Using a Portable Spectrometer to Source Archaeological Materials and to Detect Restorations in Museum Objects.” (S. Wisseman, T. Emerson, M. Hynes, R. Hughes). Journal of American Institute of Conservation.

2003 “Materializing Cahokia Shamans.” Southeastern Archaeology 22(2): 135-154.

2003 “The Sourcing and Interpretation of Cahokia-Style Figures in the Trans-Mississippi South and Southeast.” (T. Emerson, R. Hughes, M. Hynes, S. Wisseman). American Antiquity 68(2): 287-314.

2003 “Death and Ritual in Early Rural Cahokia.” (T. Emerson, Eve Hargrave, and Kristin Hedman). In Theory, Method, and Practice in Modern Archaeology, edited by R. J. Jeske, and D. K. Charles, pp. 163-181. Praeger, Westport, CT.

2002 “Embodying Power and Resistance at Cahokia.” (T. Emerson and T. Pauketat). In The Dynamics of Power edited by M. O'Donovan, pp. 105-125. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 30. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

2002 “Mineralogical Approaches to Sourcing Eastern Woodlands Pipes and Figurines.” (Sarah U. Wisseman, Duane M. Moore, Randall E. Hughes, Mary R. Hynes, Thomas E. Emerson.) Geoarchaeology 17(7): 689-715.

2002 “An Introduction to Cahokia 2002: Diversity, Complexity, and History.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 27(2): 127-148.

2001 “Interpreting Discontinuity and Historical Process in Midcontinential Late Archaic and Early Woodland Societies.” (T. Emerson, and D. McElrath). In The Archaeology of Traditions: Agency and History Before and After Columbus, edited by T.R. Pauketat, pp. 195-217. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

2000 “Strangers in Paradise: Recognizing Ethnic Mortuary Diversity on the Fringes of Cahokia.” (Emerson and Eve Hargrave). Southeastern Archaeology 19:1-23.

2000 “Figurines, Flint Clay Sourcing, the Ozark Highlands, and Cahokian Acquisition.” (Emerson and Randall E. Hughes). American Antiquity 65(1):79-101.

1999 “Review Feature: Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power.” (Emerson, W. Dancey, T. Pauketat, A. Whittle, E. DeMarrais, W. DeBoer, and A. Kehoe). Cambridge Archaeological Journal 9(2): 249-275.

1999 “The Langford Tradition and the Process of Tribalization on the Middle Mississippian Borders.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 24(1): 3-56.

1999 “Representations of Hegemony as Community at Cahokia.” (T. Pauketat and Emerson). In Material Symbols: Culture and Economy in Prehistory, edited by J. Robb, pp. 302-317. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Occasional Paper No. 26, Carbondale, Illinois.

1997 Cahokia and the Archaeology of Power. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

1997 “Cahokia Elite Ideology and the Mississippian Cosmos.” In Cahokia: Ideology and Domination in the Mississippian World, edited by T. Pauketat and T. Emerson, pp. 190-228. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

1997 “Reflections from the Countryside on Cahokian Hegemony.” In Cahokia: Ideology and Domination in the Mississippian World, edited by T. Pauketat and T. Emerson, pp.167-189. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

1996 “Preserving the Shipwrecks of the Prairie State.” Illinois Archaeology 8(1&2): 1-22.

1993 “The Osteology and Archaeology of the Crow Creek Massacre.” (P. Willey and T. Emerson). In Prehistory and Human Ecology of the Western Prairies and Northern Plains, edited by J. Tiffany. Plains Anthropologist 38(145), Memoir 27:227–269.

1993 “Saving the Great Nobb: A Case Study in the Preservation of Cahokia’s Monks Mound through Passive Management.” (Emerson and W. Woods). In Highways into the Past, edited by T. Emerson, A. Fortier, and D. McElrath. Illinois Archaeology 5(1&2): 100–107. Illinois Archaeological Survey, Urbana.

1992 “The Late Prehistory and Protohistory of Illinois.” (Emerson and J. Brown). In Calumet and Fleur–De–Lys: French and Indian Interaction in the Midcontinent, edited by J. Walthall and T. Emerson, pp. 77-125. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

1991 “The Ideology of Authority and the Power of the Pot.” (T. Pauketat and T. Emerson). American Anthropologist 93: 919-941.

1991 “The Search for French Peoria.” (Emerson and F. Mansberger). In French Colonial Archaeology: The Illinois Country, edited by J. Walthall, pp. 149-164. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

1991 “Some perspectives on Cahokia and the northern Mississippian expansion.” In Cahokia and the Hinterlands: Middle Mississippian Cultures of the Midwest, edited by T. Emerson and R.B. Lewis, pp. 221-236. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

1990 “The socio-politics of the living and the dead: the treatment of historic and prehistoric human remains in contemporary Midwest America.” (T. Emerson and P. Cross). Death Studies 14(6):543-564.

1989 “Water, Serpents, and the Underworld: An Exploration into Cahokian Symbolism.” In The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Artifacts and Analysis, edited by P. Galloway, pp. 45-92. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

1986 “Early Woodland cultural variation, subsistence, and settlement in the American Bottom.” (with A. Fortier). In Early Woodland Archeology, edited by K. Farnsworth and T. Emerson, pp. 475-522. Center for American Archeology Press, Kampsville.

1983 “A Settlement-Subsistence Model of the Terminal Late Archaic adaptation in the American Bottom, Illinois.” (Emerson and D. McElrath). In Archaic Hunters and Gatherers in the American Midwest, edited by J. Phillips and J. Brown, pp. 219-242. Academic Press, New York.

1978 “A new method for calculating the live weight of the northern white-tailed deer from osteoarchaeological material.” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 3(1): 35-44.

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