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19 July 2008
Construction damages prehistoric site in Illinois

About an acre of one of Illinois' most significant prehistoric sites was destroyed by bulldozing. Located a mile or so from Lebanon's bricked and antique shop-lined main thoroughfare, the Pfeffer site has been listed for more than 20 years on the US National Register of Historic Places. But in late June, about an acre of artifact-filled soil was destroyed when a bulldozer scraped it away during the building of a road on a multiple home construction site.
     Archaeologist Jeff Kruchten of the University of Illinois surveyed the site recently with Tim Pauketat, another archaeologist from the same university. "This is the most egregious destruction of a site that I have seen," said Kruchten, who urged the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to take action. The site level had been taken down a foot to expose features from the Mississippian-era, including the tops of more than 20 debris-filled 'midden pits,' or places where refuse was dumped, prime areas for archaeological study.
     "This is a very important site for the beginnings of Cahokia," said Pauketat, referring to the mound center about 15 miles to the northwest now known as the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site along Collinsville Road in Collinsville. He said people at the Pfeffer site probably helped build the big mound city. "This destruction is a significant loss. This was an emerging civilization," he said.
     Haaker said the incident is under investigation and added that some of the site was indeed destroyed. She said a civil lawsuit may be filed against developer Thomas Bow.
     At a nearby site in O'Fallon in 2001, a member of Pauketat's crew made a discovery that drew national attention - 70 prehistoric stone axe heads or celts were found packed tightly in a small hole. Some of the celts were unfinished and may have been buried as part of a religious ceremony. Another significant find was a low mound only a few feet high where a post, or log had been buried upright extending downward at least 15 feet into the ground. A dark, circular, descending stain into the soil was all that remained but that was enough to prove that the post had been buried, probably as homage to ancestors, Pauketat said. Similar features have been discovered at the remains of the mound center in Collinsville. "There was a connection to Cahokia," said Pauketat, "and that's why the Pfeffer site is so important."

Source: Belleville News-Democrat (13 July 2008)

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