Dig turns up marshland artifacts

by Brian Lewis, staff reporter

Parts of Illinois south of Chicago, and northwest Indiana stretching to South Bend, used to be home to massive marshlands so rich with fish and waterfowl they were known as the everglades of the north.p. A huge recreation area that attracted prolific outdoorsmen such as former President Teddy Roosevelt and Lew Wallace, author of Ben-Hur, once stood where there are now sprawling acres of farmland.p. An immense archeological dig in the area recently led by University of Notre Dame anthropologist Mark Schurr has unearthed a slew of artifacts, such as 3,000-year-old deer toe fishhooks, and iron tools pre-dating the Civil War — leading to new theories about the people who used to live in these lands.p. Swamplands surrounding the Kankakee River were drained by settlers about a hundred years ago and not much is known about the French traders, Potawatomi and Hopewell Native American cultures that inhabited the area before the 1830s. Findings from this dig provide hundreds of clues for figuring out who they were and what they did.p. Volunteers from the Kankakee Valley Historical Society and local residents helped Schurr unearth hand-blown glass from bottles dated to the early 1800s, which he thinks contained alcohols and medicines used by the Potawatomi and French fur traders.p. Schurr said the early Europeans and Native Americans used a lot of the same instruments, making it hard to discern exactly who used what.p. “Some seed beads we found almost certainly point to Potawatomi occupation, but a hand-made stone pipe we found that was broken may have been used by Europeans and Native Americans,” he said.p. A perfectly preserved prehistoric midden (a sort of early landfill) dating back to 1100 A.D., also was found.p. “The midden was lined with a lot of charcoal fragments, which means the early people probably burned out the pit in order to refill it with more refuse,” Schurr said.p. The three-week dig was halted July 1, but will resume sometime next summer. Schurr and a colleague from the Kankakee Valley Historical Society will present a paper on their findings at the Midwest Archaeological Conference in St. Louis in October.

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