Archaeologists from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS), part of the Prairie Research Institute (PRI) are responsible for locating and acknowledging the lands of Native Nations that are now part of the State of Illinois, as further echoed in the Office of the Chancellor’s Land Acknowledgement statement, “These … lands continue to carry the stories of these Nations and their struggles for survival and identity." The full statement is available here.
Seven hundred years ago, a series of fortified Native American towns lined the Illinois River valley from north of Peoria, Illinois, to south of Havana, Illinois, each with a prominent townhouse or temple in the middle. A place locally called “the Heldenmeyer site” was one of these. Today, it covers 30 acres of an agricultural field.
In the distant past, the Heldenmeyer settlement was home to two different cultures, people from historically distinct western and northern Illinois regions. Archaeologists can tell this based on the varieties of broken pottery cookware found on the site’s plow-churned surface. This makes the site historically and culturally unique, a place in need of documentation and preservation. With such goals in mind, volunteers and archaeologists from ISAS helped researchers from the University of California-Santa Barbara and Northern Illinois University conduct a geophysical survey at the site in November of 2022. By measuring the magnetic properties of the soils, ISAS specialists can verify the presence of buried deposits and “see” the settlement’s original layout.
The results of this geophysical survey show a walled settlement that was built and rebuilt at least once. An old stream cut across the north end, while scores of faint square/rectangular anomalies represent small houses. Deep storage pits show up along the sloping western portion of the site as a concentration of polka dots. The town walls are visible as long, mostly straight lines, often bordering concentrations of pits and houses. The archaeological traces of Indigenous history are still visible below plow-disturbed topsoil.