The Center for American Archaeology

Amber Jolly

The Center for American Archaeology, P.O. Box 366, Kampsville, Illinois 62053, was created in the aftermath of archeological research in the Lower Illinois River Valley initiated by Northwestern University in the early 1970s. The center continues to offer field schools and supervise archeological research spurred by the discovery of a famous site in the backyard of a dairy farmer named Theodore "Ted" Koster. Behind his barn, Koster found ancient remains. Under the leadership of Dr. Stuart Streuver, Northwestern University began excavations that lasted for years. It was found that on that site tribes ranging from Early Woodland to the Archaic Period had lived. In years, the site was over 10,000 years old and yielded results to 35 foot depth. Enough was found over ten years of excavation to fill a museum in Kampsville. Eventually the site was covered with sand to preserve it, should future excavation be needed.

One of the most substantial points about the Koster site was that the people who had once inhabited it were in transition from nomadic to sedentary lives. Although not much is known about the people themselves, at the period in time when the Koster site was most active, its people were thought to begin building mounds and other stationary homes.

Also, it has been discovered that they started to domesticate plants such as maize (corn). How did they know this? a technique archaeologists developed was called the "flotation technique." It is, in its simplest and most basic explanation, putting seeds on dirt, and floating them until they grow roots which then attach to the ground. It also includes using fluids to separate heavy items in hearths etc. from those that might be organic.

Other discoveries include burial mounds throughout the region which the Center has not been able to excavate due to the many moral and ethical issues that involve digging up the final resting places of the deceased. this has proved frustrating, for the researchers have only been able to make assumptions about the inhabitants of the land they have worked hard to uncover.
Archaeologists must be sensitive to the ethical issues following the creation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in November 1990. The Center has established a procedure for determining the rights of human remains and cultural artifacts they may uncover. Tools were discovered as well, although most were primitive (e.g. arrows, arrowheads, spears, knives, and axes).
The Illinois River valley was a highly populated area. The nomadic Paleo-Indians were hunters and had explored Illinois widely. They were followed by the archaic Indians who were of the same ilk. The Woodland Indians were a transitional people in that they were semi-nomadic. Their people were hunters, but also began to experiment in agriculture, the first people to domesticate plants such as corn, beans, squash, to yield higher crop quality. They were also widely known as mound builders. Succeeding them were the Middle Mississippian Indians who developed urban areas and cities which are thought to have died out due to overpopulation, disease, or exhaustion of resources. After the Mississippians came the Illiniwek who spanned the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Another, more recent site has been named the Audrey North Site. It exemplifies the transition from Late Woodland to Mississippian. It dates back to 1050-1150 A.D. and was excavated from 1973-85. The site was found to be a more advanced society in which a planned village with mapped-out rows containing structures thought to have been centered around a plaza were located.

The Center for American Archaeology, funded largely by grants and endowments, continues to hold field schools in archeology and summer schools for students interested in the field.


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