Thursday, August 31, 2017

1,000-year-old walls offer glimpse into Native Americans in Illinois

1,000-year-old walls offer glimpse into Native Americans in Illinois
Millstone Bluff-Daniel Schwen

Stone walls dating back more than 1,000 years and scattered throughout Southern Illinois are giving residents a chance to encounter the state’s rich Native American heritage.
At least 10 sites hold remnants of stone walls constructed between A.D. 600 and 900 by Native Americans living in the Late Woodland period.
Mark Wagner, professor, and director of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale says not enough excavating has been done to determine the use of each of the structures.
“We don't know in most cases what they're being used for,” Wagner said. “Some could be ritual places where they're holding ceremonies, and some can actually be an enclosure of some type where Native Americans are behind the wall for defense.”
Wagner and a team excavated a stone wall in Giant City State Park, south of Carbondale in the Shawnee National Forest, and discovered evidence that the area was inhabited at one time.
Wagner theorizes that Native Americans temporarily moved to the structure during wartime for protection.
“Behind the wall are thousands of artifacts, hundreds of pits, all sorts of tools associated with daily living,” Wagner said.
The walls vary in size from enclosing an acre to as large as approximately 40 acres. Historical documents from the 1800s describe one of the walls as being 6 feet tall. Wagner says no information is available to determine the descendants of the Native Americans who would have built the enclosures
“There are stone enclosures in other states, but they seem to be earlier in time than the ones in Southern Illinois,” Wagner said. “The ones in Southern Illinois are unique because of the time period where they're being constructed.”
Even though most of these sites are hardly recognizable as walls anymore, they are still an important part of the state’s Native American heritage, he said.
“They speak to something that is going on in this region and part of Native American history,” Wagner said. “They're a legacy of whatever was going on here between A.D. 600 and 900, and they need to be preserved because they tell the story of native peoples in Illinois.”
Some of the stone walls are on private property, but several are on state and federal land and open to the public. The walls at Giant City State Park and Millstone Bluff in Pope County are some of the sites with interpretive signage explaining the history of the structures to visitors.

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