The Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) recently conducted archaeological investigations of a site in Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) .
This site was a large Native American farming village in Cook County at a critical point in American history. It was the first archaeological site officially recorded in this portion of Illinois and is the “type site” for the “Huber Cultural Phase” (ca. AD 1450-1640). The site was briefly investigated by archaeologists in 1929 and again in 1957 and found to contain some of the earliest European trade goods yet identified in Illinois.
Much of the site has been destroyed by urban expansion, but a portion is preserved within the Forest Preserve. Between 1980 and 2000, the site was disrupted by surreptitious digging—perhaps by relic hunters, perhaps to create “bunkers” for paintball players. The recent project focused on re-excavating these pits, recording valuable archaeological information, and repairing the damage to the site.
The site previously had yielded well-preserved animal remains, stone tools, and ceramic vessel fragments, along with a small sample of European trade goods such as beads, brass, and copper. During the recent investigation, archaeologists found additional stone tools, ceramic vessel fragments, and bone and shell tools. Other bone fragments found indicate that both small and large mammals, turtles, fish, birds, and nuts were part of the villagers’ diet. Soil samples taken will be processed through a technique known as “flotation”; small items recovered such as fish scales, seeds, and nuts will provide additional information about the range of foods grown and gathered by people living here.
FPCC staff will backfill the two largest unauthorized pits this summer and will remove brush and non-native vegetation in the fall.
"Invasive species removal addresses several issues in these cases and is an example of successful integrated natural and cultural resource management,” explained archaeologist Paula Porubcan, coordinator of the ISAS Northern Illinois Field Station. Native habitat restoration together with careful removal of underbrush across an archaeological site area can create sight lines to aid in monitoring of the site by Forest Preserve staff and stewards and therefore discourage looting. ISAS and FPCC have used this approach on other parcels throughout the preserves.
Much of the archaeological record of Cook County has been lost due to development. The Forest Preserves contain nearly half of the known remaining archaeological sites in the county. The careful management of these remaining archaeological resources will enable future generations of citizens to continue to learn about the rich cultural heritage of Cook County and the State of Illinois.
“Information about how human communities lived in the Chicago metro area, from 10,000 B.C. through WWII, is present in the archaeological sites preserved and managed by the FPCC,” said Porubcan. “Archaeological sites from this entire time span are present here. And for the lion’s share of this time, prior to European contact and written records, archaeological sites provide the only means to learning about Chicago’s past.”
The FPCC worked with scientists from ISAS, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and Illinois State Water Survey to create a Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan, published in 2014. As part of this plan over the past five years, the Forest Preserve and ISAS surveyed 4,020 acres of FPCC land and identified 59 new archaeological sites, in addition to the 551 sites that had been recorded as of 2014. Management priorities and protocols have been developed for all 610 archaeological sites currently known to be present on Forest Preserves land.
Before the Forest Preserves develops new projects, ISAS archaeologists assess the area to see whether and how cultural resources might be impacted. For example, before the construction of Shabbona Campground, archaeologists identified seven archaeological sites in and around the planned campground location. They found more than 15,000 artifacts, including pottery and stone tools, that tell us that people have been living on these ancient sand ridges for almost 5,000 years.
ISAS and FPDCC staff worked with campground engineers and contractors to redesign the campground well before construction began, protecting these important archaeological sites.
Over the last several years, the FPCC has been actively including important archaeological sites within the boundaries of newly designated Illinois Nature Preserve parcels on FPCC lands – for example, Wampum Lake, Thornton-Lansing, McMahon Woods, etc. This INPC status provides an even greater level of protection to these archaeological sites.
Read more about this collaborative project in The Daily Southtown: Archaeologists, naturalists collaborate to safeguard the future and protect the past in Cook County Forest Preserves