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A Peek at the Past in Western Illinois

Rich Egger

Artifacts uncovered just west of Macomb give a glimpse into life in the region during three distinct time periods.

Some of the items, which were found during construction of Route 336 from Macomb to Quincy, are on display at the Western Illinois Museumin Macomb until the beginning of February.

“We were very pleased with what we were finding,” said Richard Fishel, Senior Project Archaeologist with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey.

Among the artifacts are arrows points, spear points, and stone boiling pits used 6,000 years ago. Fishel said the people who made the items probably did not live in the region for long periods of time.

“They were probably transient, and they would come back and forth through time and they were probably collecting hickory nuts,” said Fishel. He said they were probably processing the nuts for food to be eaten during the winter months.

Fishel said most of the artifacts on display are from two other time periods. One of them was from roughly 1830 to 1845, which was shortly after Illinois became a state but before Macomb was founded.

“That was well before they were writing things down in history books. A lot of people weren’t literate at that time so we don’t have a lot of records,” said Fishel.

“So anything we find from the archaeological excavation at that site is new information to us.”

Credit Rich Egger
Richard Fishel

The radio story

He said the people who lived there had a small cabin and probably did farming and hunting.  They likely did a lot of bartering rather than paying for goods and services.

However, a few Spanish coins from the 1700s were found at the site. The silver coins -- known as reales – were accepted as currency in the United States until the mid-1800s.

The final time period is from the 1860s to around 1900.  Fishel said while more is known about that time period, the artifacts are helpful because they add to the database of knowledge about that time period.

He said every construction project that receives state or federal funding in Illinois is required by law to have an archaeological survey conducted.  The excavation was done on the Route 336 site in the middle of the last decade because of the significance of the items found.

Fishel said this particular dig is known as the Excavation at Chenoweth. He said it’s typical to name an excavation after the people who owned the property at the time.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.