People lived in the area between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers for hundreds of years before Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Archeologists are trying to learn more about two particular groups and how they interacted.
The dig is taking place at the Morton Village site, which can be found in a grassy field on a bluff near the Illinois River in Fulton County. Researchers from Michigan State University have come here for the past five summers.
“This is a very rich archeological area. Up and down the bluff line there are mounds lining it from all sorts of different time periods,” said Jodie O'Gorman, Chair of MSU's Department of Anthropology.
The Mississippian culture lived there for several hundred years beginning around 1000 AD. The Oneota culture, which is more common to the north, came along later. It's not known why it expanded to this area.
O'Gorman said there appeared to be some conflicts between the two cultures but there also appeared to be some cooperation. For example -- and this is something unique to this site -- there is a large structure with a hearth toward the center. Pottery from both cultures has been found in the structure.
“We're viewing it as sort of this public place that serves much like our public places serve today -- to bring people together probably for ceremonies or just for gatherings,” O'Gorman said.
They're also learning about the tools these cultures used, the animals they hunted, and the crops they grew.
Student Sarah Conway said she's wanted to be an archeologist since she was ten years old.
“This is hard work. This is my first real field experience but I love it,” Conway said. “Even when it's 90-degrees outside.”
The Morton Village site is at the north end of the Emiquon Preserve, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. It's a couple miles northeast of Dickson Mounds Museum. Staff members from the museum are also taking part in the excavation.
The MSU group members will spend about six weeks at Morton Village before leaving the land -- similar to how the Native American cultures settled there for a while before moving on. But instead of leaving behind mysteries, these people hope to uncover some answers.