Local road project sparks archaeological dig


Kendall Downing

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Ill. - Tools, pottery, even storage pits dating back thousands of years. Archaeologists are uncovering remarkable artifacts right now in a local community.

Scientists from across Illinois are concentrating their efforts in one spot in Williamson County, but don't be confused.

For the past two weeks, we've been telling you about digging going on at the Herrin Cemetery. This archaeological dig is different and not related. It's both a state and federal job.

An active archaeological scene is what you'll find beside a busy Williamson County road. The traffic got the ball rolling for the dig.

"This is mandated by both federal and state laws," said Brent Lansdell, a research archaeologist with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey.

Back in 2001, the Illinois Department of Transportation wanted to straighten out a dangerous S-curve. They bought up property for years and eventually got one piece from a homeowner.

Initial digs qualified that as a protected site. Now the state of Illinois must clear artifacts before they can build the road.

"You find artifacts lots of places, where you actually find the remains of their habitation, that is a rare thing," said Brent Lansdell.

Lansdell said there's tons of history there. The crew isn't just finding tools but a habitation area and storage facilities, where Native Americans set up camp over thousands of years.

"This information is limited, you know. It's a finite resource. Once it's destroyed we can never get it back," he said.

Lansdell said that's why leaving the digging to professionals is proper. They can take care of any artifacts and note their historical significance.

IDOT and the archaeologists ask that the public stay away from the site. That's why Local 6 is not revealing its exact location. The area is now state property, and that includes the artifacts on it.

Landsell said they do notify the sheriff's departments and police to keep watch on the property for any trespassers.

IDOT hopes to begin construction on the road in May of 2014.