Native Americans of the Bunker Hill Area

            Mark Miller (now 60) remembers as a bare foot lad looking for arrow heads and talking to local historians for help in finding artifacts. His interest in Native American artifacts has over many years, led to his searching for artifact sites in our area.   He would walk through city streets and farm fields looking for historic treasures.  Many older citizens would tell him of their finds and where they had discovered them. Mark became skeptical of most of these reports because after walking the sites he would find only a trace or two of artifacts.   Over forty years ago, Julius Schreier, told him of doing an excavation for a water line near Pine Street and finding “bushels of arrowheads.”  Mark had walked this street many times, but with little success finding artifacts.

            Mark reports that he has determined that about five or six Native American village sites are in or near Bunker Hill.  He believes that some of them may have existed for as long as a thousand years and that the earliest may date to 3,000 BC.  Through his experience and studies, Mark has become very knowledgeable of early Bunker Hill area history.  While sharing his experiences with others, he has developed an extensive network of Native American historians and researchers.  His many years of sharing has led to becoming a close acquaintance of Ken Farnsworth.  Ken works for the State of Illinois as a Senior Staff Archeologist, primarily concerned with researching state IDOT construction sites before excavation begins.  He has extensive experience and knowledge of Native American history.  He is also affiliated with the Kampsville, Illinois Archeological site.

            Pine Street, the unmarked alley behind the United Community Bank, is in the center of Bunker Hill and occupies some of  the highest  ground in the city.  It’s also a place with numerous underground utility lines.  Mark had heard tales of excavations made in this area in the twenties from Julius Schreier.  Mark also had searched through a pile of dirt for a utility excavation in the Fifties and found several arrow heads after a heavy rain.  He had also heard of tales of  artifacts found when the sewer system was installed in the late sixties.  So when he heard of further excavations in the middle nineties he was not surprised to hear of more artifacts being found.  The difference now is that when artifacts are found the site must be reported to the Illinois State Natural Resources Department to have a Staff Archeologist visit the site to determine if it should be researched and documented.  This was done with this site and it was written off as being of no significance to study.  Wrong!!!!!!!!

            Mark recognized the significance of the site from his earlier experiences.  He contacted his friend, Ken Farnsworth, and suggested he may want to be involved.  Ken and Mark contacted city maintenance supervisor, Bill Manar, who had operated the Back Hoe and was familiar with the site.  In May of 1994, Ken convinced Bill and the city fathers that further investigation of the site was important.  Working on their own time and with city approval Bill, Mark and Ken started an excavation of the site.  Their work would prove very significant and important.

            Under the supervision of Ken the site was carefully opened.  Previously disturbed soil was removed and was loaded in a dump truck and hauled to a remote site where many artifacts were gathered by scavengers.  Work progressed carefully to find the area that was virgin and the walls to a pit were found. What was found was determined to be a Ceremonial Burial Pit.

The previous construction project had dug right through the middle of the this site leaving two sides of the pit undisturbed, which allowed for a sizing of the shaft.  The diameter of the pit  was measured at seven feet, with a depth of  over seven feet.  Along one side of the Pit was found a spiral stairway that was cut into the wall. On the floor, at the bottom of the Pit was a pile of cremated remains less than two feet in diameter and about one foot high.  One hundred or so calcified bone fragments were separated from the ashes.  It is supposed that a Ceremonial Fire could have occurred nearby and the ashes and remains were placed in a basket and placed in the bottom of the pit.  Ken and Mark have no idea whether one or more individuals had been cremated.

Maybe as many as 200-300 blades,  2 copper awls and a sandstone abrader, with red ochre crystals imbedded in it, were laid on top of the pile of ashes and bone fragments.  Above that was a two foot earth fill and then five more blades arranged in a star pattern.  Ken pointed out that the copper awls were a very important discovery.  The copper most likely comes out of float copper deposits found around the Great Lakes.  It’s also found with quartz deposited by the glaciers.

The blades were made of Wyandotte chert, a slate Grey chert  found in nodular form along hills and creeks near the Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana. Ken stated, “We believe the blades were from 3,000 years ago.”   The chert is found in round or ovoid shape balls with ˝” - 3/4” of white chalky cortex limestone emulsion on the surface of the ball.  When cracked the round balls release long spalls of flint and this is further flaked down to form projectile points and knife blades.  Mark had not previously seen this type of blades.  These blades were presumed to be used for ceremonial purposes as the chalky ends were preserved.  For hunting use, the chalk would certainly have been removed.  Some blades are extremely well done and some examples are poorly done.  It appears the Pit is from the Terminal Archaic or Red Ochre era about 1200-900 BC.

Mark related that early man probably inhabited these prairies as early as 12,000 BC.  These people are thought to have been Hunter - Gather societies who lived in small groups.  It’s also thought that they were extremely nomadic and moved with the seasons.  The Hopewell group existed in this area about time of Christ.  When Europeans moved into the Illinois territory the Prairie grass was so tall that a man on horseback would have to stand up on the horse's back to see beyond the tops of the grass.  It’s been recorded that on some prairies all that could be seen was a sea of grass and no forests would be in sight.

Mark had previously found evidence of a village site nearby the Ceremonial Pit.  He had found Kampsville bark projectile points in the area.  Ken Farnsworth stated that there is probably a fifty percent chance of more burial sites in the area.  Only one previous similar site has been recorded.  It is called Riverside Cemetery and is located on the Wisconsin - Michigan border.  It was excavated in the 1950’s  and had over 20 shafts on the site.  These gravesite are very deep and are seldom found due to their depth.  A site as this has never found before in Illinois.  The type of projectile points and blades gives indications that this group were traders or had traveled extensively.

This excavation was explained at a program given by Ken Farnsworth in 1997 at the Bunker Hill Municipal Building.  Ken stated that the crowd in attendance was one of the largest he had reported to.  He was extremely appreciative of the interest shown on that evening.  Ken speculated that the remains found may have been of a tribal leader or of an important male hunter.  These individuals were given special treatment in their burial Ceremonies.