Ask an Archaeologist

Ask an Archaeologist

Do you have an artifact that you would like to know more about? Would you like to add to the archaeological record of Illinois? 

Ask an Archaeologist


Anyone who has artifacts from Illinois or surrounding states, or who believes they have spotted archaeological artifacts, or who has a question about Illinois archaeology, can submit artifact photos and questions for review by the Illinois State Archaeologist and other experts at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. 

ISAS specializes in archaeological artifacts and objects from the Midwest, and our staff respond to information requests as their busy schedules allow. Please note that we DO NOT appraise artifacts or authenticate items for sale. We also may have suggestions on how you could learn more. There are local associations you can join and books or websites that might have more information about the people who made these objects.

Remember, once an artifact is removed from its original setting, it often loses much of its informational value. So, if you find something it is usually better to leave it in place, protect it, and inform an archaeologist or local land manager. If possible, consider providing a map, address, or GPS coordinates where the artifact was found. Even general information, like whether it came from a river bank or a farm field, can be helpful. If the object was given to you by a family member, it might be a good idea to do a short interview with them about where and when the artifact was found or how they came to have it.

You can submit your artifact inquiries using this short form. Please provide one to three high-quality photos, ideally including a ruler or common object like a coin for scale. If possible, our team of experts will identify the item, its function, and who may have used it. We are interested in both historic and pre-contact period artifacts, broken or whole. 
 

Ask an Archaeologist

 

If the archaeological site you are concerned about is on your property, there are a few things you should do. First, limit impacts to the area. Don’t call attention to the site or tell too many people about it. This decreases the chance of treasure hunting or looting.

If it is an archaeological site, report it to the Illinois Department of Natural Recourses, Historic Preservation Division (IHPD). The site can then be recorded, with the landowner’s permission, and will add to the general archaeological knowledge about our state. For more information about reporting and protecting sites see the information provided by the IHPD and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

If the site you are concerned about is not on your property, please contact us using this short form. We can help you communicate your concerns to the appropriate legal official, if warranted. Many state, federal, and tribal lands already have people working to protect archaeological sites on their properties. However, they are often in charge of large regions and always appreciate public assistance in site stewardship.

If you believe that an archaeological site on private property is being destroyed, then it is appropriate to notify the Illinois SHPO as soon as possible. Contact Jeff Kruchten, SHPO Chief Archaeologist, at (217) 785-1279 or Jeffery.Kruchten@illinois.gov.

If you happen to come across an artifact on a property other than your own, you should leave the artifact where it is. It is illegal to remove artifacts from either public or private land you do not own without permission.

We recommend that you photograph the object in place and the area around it. If possible, log the GPS coordinates or draw a detailed map of where the artifact can be found. Then report your find to ISAS using the form available here or the Illinois SHPO: Jeff Kruchten, SHPO Chief Archaeologist, at (217) 785-1279 or Jeffery.Kruchten@illinois.gov.

If you find something on state, federal, or tribal lands, you should contact the land manager and ask to speak to a cultural resource specialist. If you are confused about whom the appropriate land management agency might be, ISAS is happy to help you locate this information. It is also appropriate to contact the Illinois SHPO to report your find. If you find an artifact on private property that you do not own, you should inform the landowner. Your find may contribute greatly to our knowledge of the region!

There are a number of laws in place that protect human burials. In Illinois, the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act protects burials, burial markers (including Native American mounds), and burial artifacts from disturbance, including vandalism, defacement, destruction, sale, exchange, excavation, or removal. On public property (including federal and tribal land) the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) provides guidelines for protecting Native American graves.

If you have any questions about human remains, please contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Dawn Cobb, IDNR Archaeologist, (217) 785-4992 or Dawn.Cobb@illinois.gov.

If you inadvertently come across human remains on your property or elsewhere, stop activities in the area immediately. In Illinois it is against the law to knowingly disturb a human burial (20 ILSC 3440). In addition, there are both federal and state laws that govern the recovery of human remains. For this reason, if you find human remains of any kind in Illinois, you are required by law to notify the county coroner. This is a necessary step in order to allow a medical examiner to determine whether the remains are human, and whether they are Native American, or whether law enforcement needs to be contacted. The discovery of human remains may be treated as a crime scene to rule out any recent criminal activities.

Ask an Archaeologist