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Archaeology in the spotlight

Barry McNamara
10/07/2010
The formal opening of Monmouth College’s North American Artifact Collection on Oct. 14 will precede the keynote lecture for the college’s “Year of Western Illinois Archaeology” observance.

The opening and reception will begin at 6 p.m. in the college’s Hewes Library. It will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a lecture by Lawrence A. Conrad, emeritus director of the Western Illinois University Archaeological Research Laboratory, in the Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. Both events are free and open to the public.

Conrad will speak on “History From Under Your Feet and From Under Your Wheels: Highlights of Archaeological Research in Western Illinois,” an appropriate title, as most of the specimens in the college’s artifacts collection were found in Warren, Henderson and McDonough counties.

“My presentation will touch on some of the more important people, undertakings, discoveries and studies which have shaped our understanding of the cultures occupying the region for 13,000 years before the coming of the French,” said Conrad. “Contributors range from professional anthropologists with institutional backing who have conducted major excavations to concerned, intelligent laymen who have carefully assembled and preserved surface collections such as the one recently donated to Monmouth College.”

Valued at approximately $50,000, MC’s collection includes arrowheads, ax heads, scrapers and broken pieces of pottery, some of which are as old as 13,000 years. Most of the artifacts range in age from several hundred to several thousand years. It was presented to the college by a lifelong collector, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“This collection will be an invaluable learning resource for Monmouth College students,” said Tom Sienkewicz, the Minnie Billings Capron Professor of Classics and coordinator of the Western Illinois Society of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). “They will be able to learn about the life and culture of early inhabitants of western Illinois by viewing material culture from that period, but even more valuable will be the opportunities students will have for hands-on work with these artifacts. Students interested in archaeology, history and museum studies will have ample opportunity to catalog artifacts, put them in cultural context and prepare public displays.”

“This gift to Monmouth College is a gift that will keep on giving to everyone who is interested in west central Illinois archaeology for the foreseeable future,” added Conrad.

“The donor is a very interesting person, and he’s led a very interesting life,” said assistant professor of history Fred Witzig. “The stories he has about how he found the items and where he found them are fascinating – he has such a remarkable memory.”

Both Witzig and Conrad commented that although there is nothing in the collection that scholars haven’t seen before, it provides “nice examples of things that exist in other places.” An example, Witzig said, is a nutting stone that Conrad has seen only two other times in his half-century of western Illinois archaeology.

The “Year of Western Illinois Archaeology” was made possible in part by an AIA Society Outreach Grant awarded recently to the Western Illinois Society.

In awarding the grant, committee chair Don Morrison wrote, “The Western Illinois Society should be very proud of the accomplishments that have led it to be selected. This project will inform your local community, promote the field of archaeology, encourage membership in the AIA, and serve as an example to other AIA local societies to develop creative projects of their own.”