The Steve Johnson Collection

A Critical Collection from Northwest Illinois

In 2011, Roger and Peggy Johnson of Durand donated the artifact collection of their late son, Steve, to ISAS. The collection is remarkably well organized and documented and spans the entire culture history of the Pecatonica River Valley. The collection was donated with the stipulation that it be used for research and publication to aid in our understanding of local Native American cultures.

For their generous donation, the Johnson’s were honored with an Illinois Archeological Survey Public Service Award in 2012. ISAS staff personnel Ed Jakaitis, Clare Connelly, Phil Millhouse and others have already begun to utilize this rich assemblage of surface collected artifacts. Steve’s legacy of careful collecting will be of lasting benefit to both the scientific community and public for many years to come. This is a wonderful legacy to leave for us all.

The Johnsons 
2012 Illinois Archaeological Survey Public Service Award honorees Peggy and Roger Johnson (right).

This donation came with the specific stipulation that the artifacts be used for research, with the information shared through publications and presentations. Immediately after donation, several artifacts from the collection were selected for inclusion in the upcoming ISAS publication, Projectile Points of Illinois. The continued use of this collection is a fitting legacy for Steve’s efforts at careful collection, study, documentation, and mapping of his many finds. The collection’s value is heightened by the fact that much of the material was recovered from the Pecatonica River Valley and surrounding area.  Very little professional research has been conducted within the drainage and Steve’s collection is one of the best-documented records we have of the area’s culture history. 

Steve Johnson was 10 years of age when the first projectile was found. He quickly became interested in the artifacts and began to educate himself by reading any literature he could find on the subject. Steve also began keeping detailed records on where artifacts were found, and when. He would take note of an artifact’s provenience by site, and at times by general location on the site (e.g. “NW corner”), note this information in a field book, and keep the notes with his collections.  Steve and Roger eventually developed a recording system, assigning a number to each state (1 = Illinois), a letter for the county (W = Winnebago), and numbers applied to the sites and individual artifacts as they were found. These records were donated with the collection and consist of a set of four field books containing notes, two soil survey books, as well as two maps with site locations marked. When his collection of material and records was donated to ISAS in 2012, it was apparent that the collection is one of the best records we have of the prehistoric occupation of the Pecatonica Drainage basin.  

The Collection and Context

The Steve Johnson collection donated to ISAS consists of 1,693 artifacts collected in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin between 1974 and 1992. The collection primarily consists of diagnostic projectile points, but also includes chipped and groundstone celts, a copper celt, bannerstone fragments, and ceramic sherds. The artifacts were collected from 43 sites, 27 of which had not been previously reported in the Ilinois Inventory of Archaeological and Paleontological Sites (IIAPS) database (Figure 1).

Site distribution map
Figure 1. Distribution of sites identified from the Johnson Collection.

The collection contains 406 diagnostic tools from Illinois representing all time periods from Paleo-Indian to Late Woodland. The types represented include Clovis (2), Agate Basin (1), Dalton (1), Kirk (10), Raddatz/Godar (15), Matanza (65), Durst/Lamoka (34), Waubesa/Adena (16), Snyders (5) and Madison (34) projectiles (Figures 2-8) . This simple breakdown shows several patterns that suggest interesting research questions including the apparent paucity of material from both the Thebes-St. Charles cluster and from Middle Woodland styles. 

The Illinois portion of the Steve Johnson Collection has been inventoried and site forms submitted, and is beginning to provide important information to researchers interested in looking at large regional patterns of population placement across the landscape through time.  In conclusion, Steve’s decades of walking fields has given archaeologists a rare chance to begin interpreting Native American history within a critical drainage system.

Paleoindian points
Figure 2. Paleoindian.

Early-Mid Archaic points
Figure 3. Misc. Early-Mid Archaic Projectile Points.

Early Mid-Archaic Projectile points
Figure 4. Misc. Early-Mid Archaic Projectile Points.

Mid-Late Archaic points
Figure 5. Misc. Mid-Late Archaic Projectile Points.

Misc. Late Archaic points
Figure 6. Misc. Late Archaic Points.

Misc. Early Woodland points
Figure 7. Misc. Early Woodland Projectile Points.

Misc. Late Woodland-Mississippian points
Figure 8. Misc. Late Woodland-Mississippian Projectile Points.