On the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, in Kennekuk County Park northwest of Danville, sits the Collins Archaeological Complex, home to a Native American site more than 1,000 years old. As part of an intense six-week field school, Parkland College students are examining the relationship of this important archaeological site to the Mississippian civilization who built the city of Cahokia near East St. Louis, Illinois.
The summer field school is led by archaeologist Amanda Butler, instructor of anthropology at Parkland. Below, University of Illinois anthropology majors Daniele Veign (pictured above) of Mahomet and Kristen Burtzos of Cissna Park share about their experiences at Collins. Both students are currently earning credit through Parkland for this class.
Dani: Learning to Think Like an Archaeologist
The media sometimes portrays archaeology as an exotic activity where people find outrageous artifacts of a distant culture in a far-off land. Archaeologists can certainly have these experiences, but there is so much more involved in the process of archaeology. Most importantly, archaeology is everywhere, not just in distant places. Living the life of an archaeologist is far different than studying the field of archaeology. The Parkland College field school at the Collins Site is giving me the hands-on experience that one cannot get from a textbook.
The Collins site is a ceremonial mound center with connections to Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian Native American city in the U.S. It was inhabited around 1080-1180 CE. The site, consisting of multiple earthen mounds, was previously excavated in the early 1970s by a team of archaeologists from the University of Illinois who attempted to salvage as much information as possible ahead of the (then) planned dam of Middle Fork River. Currently, we are trying to gain a broader understanding about the group of people who once inhabited Collins, while also testing a hypothesis that Cahokian missionaries attempted to convert local (east central Illinois) inhabitants to their Mississippian religion.
At Collins, I am learning the basics of archaeological excavation: digging techniques, how to identify features and artifacts, and how to map, but I am also beginning to see archaeology as so much more. This field school is teaching me how I can take several different puzzle pieces and think about how they all fit together to form a fuller picture of the past. I am learning to comprehend and view another culture far different from my own. I am learning how to look at the soil and to use color and texture differences to identify archaeological features. The field school at Collins is teaching me how to truly think and act like an archaeologist.
Kristen: Finding Her Passion
The Collins site field school has given students an amazing opportunity to unearth the deep history within our own community. For me, an archaeology student, this class offers a unique hands-on experience in my chosen field of study. I am learning valuable skills and techniques used in the excavation process of an archaeologist, including surveying, excavation, laboratory analysis, mapping, and conservation.
Our instructor, Amanda Butler, challenges us to think deeply about what we are excavating and how it relates to our class readings. We are encouraged to keep daily journals so we can record our thoughts, ideas, and accomplishments throughout each day. We will use our journaled observations and class readings to discuss how our discoveries at the Collins site may correlate to the civilization that once existed at Cahokia.
We have met with visiting archaeologists and listened as they shared their own expertise and ideas about the Collins site and the field of archaeology. This field school has solidified my passion for archaeology. It has been is a great first step towards my career, and it gives me an idea of what I will be doing as I continue on my future path.