This spring, staff from the ISAS Western Illinois Field Station began evaluating the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) potential of archaeological sites documented within the limits of the preferred Illinois Department of Transportation U.S. 34 alignment in advance of upgrading this very busy two-lane segment of highway to a four-lane divided freeway. The section under consideration begins at the western end of the recently constructed Biggsville Bypass near Gladstone, Illinois, and extends approximately 8 miles (12.9 km) to the west across the Mississippi River valley, where it meets the existing bridge and approaches to Burlington, Iowa.
Two sites are under study: McChesney North, an approximately 1,500-year-old Weaver-age habitation, and Pelican Point, a circa 700-year-old Upper Mississippian occupation. A series of hand units were excavated to sample subsurface anomalies (possible cultural features) noted during magnetometry surveys undertaken as part of the NRHP evaluation process. To date, each site has produced evidence for deep storage pits and shallower processing facilities with associated pottery and lithic artifacts, as well as preserved ecofacts (animal bone, shell, and/or charred plant materials).Work will continue on other U.S. 34 sites into the summer and fall as time and access allow.
At the Pelican Point site, a mortar, a biscuit-shaped mano, a pitted anvil, and a hammerstone were found cached together within a nearly 4.5-foot-deep storage pit. This stone tool kit, made from local granitic stone likely found in nearby streams, was probably placed in this pit facility in anticipation of future need or use. Deep storage pits of this type commonly occur in late prehistoric village contexts and were used to store foodstuffs, such as corn, as well as tools and other “valuables,” similar to the way underground root cellars were used by later Euro-American settlers.