June 18, 2012

British archaeologists to tour sites in region

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Stonehenge is much closer to home, but some of the sites a group of British archaeologists want to see are in Southern Illinois. 

 The Prehistoric Society Tour, a British archaeological society based in London and led by British archaeologist Pete Topping, includes two Southern Illinois sites on a whirlwind tour of prehistoric sites in the Eastern United States.  Southern Illinois University Carbondale archaeologist and prehistoric rock art expert Mark J. Wagner will guide the group through the Piney Creek Rock Art site and to the Millstone Bluff site.  The tour group will be in Southern Illinois on Thursday, June 21, beginning mid-morning.


Media Advisory

 Members of the media are welcome to accompany the tour and to interview those in attendance.  The Millstone Bluff site in Pope County is more conducive to camera crews, both because of available parking and because the Piney Creek Rock Art site requires a hike down a ravine, and may require a filming permit.  For more information, including probable arrival times and directions to the sites, contact Mark Wagner at mjwagner@siu.edu, 618/453-5035 (office phone) or 618/521-9217 (cell phone).  For site information, contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ West-Central Region office in Chester at 618/826-2706 for information about Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve; contact the U.S. Forest Service’s archaeologist Mary McCorvie at 618/687-1731 for information about Millstone Bluff.


“I’ve worked as an archaeologist in Southern Illinois for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve been asked to guide a tour group of British archaeologists,” Wagner said.  “I think this whole thing is pretty cool, that we have archaeologists from as far away as Great Britain that know we have sites worth seeing in Southern Illinois and want to visit them. It is definitely something out of the ordinary.”

 Wagner is the right person to lead the group.  He is the author of an official survey of prehistoric rock art in Illinois commissioned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and has made the study of the rock art his research specialty. 

The Prehistoric Society’s interest is “from the earliest human origins to the emergence of written records.”  Besides educational tours, the group hosts conferences, and advocates for prehistoric archaeology through publications, awards, and grants.  

This tour focuses on Moundbuilder sites as well as rock art sites, and includes an ambitious itinerary. In addition to the Southern Illinois sites, they’ll visit Serpent Mound in Ohio and sites in Wisconsin and Iowa.

Their Southern Illinois day begins at sunrise at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, where they will observe the solstice at Woodhenge before they come Piney Creek Ravine Nature Preserve in Jackson and Randolph counties.  The rock art site within the nature preserve is the largest documented rock art site in the state and includes more than 150 carved and painted designs.  After Piney Creek, the group moves on to Millstone Bluff, near Eddyville in Pope County.  Millstone Bluff is the only prehistoric site on the National Register of Historic Places because it includes unplowed terrain that still bears evidence of the houses in a prehistoric village, Wagner said. 

Topping, the tour’s British leader, has more than 30 years of archaeological experience, having worked as a government archaeologist on sites from prehistoric to medieval to post-industrial.  His extensive fieldwork includes British sites, including excavations in Scotland and Wales, but also extended to the area he will bring the Prehistoric Society to this month.  He worked for a time for the U. S. National Park Service in Ohio and Minnesota.

The tour is sponsored by “English Heritage,” an organization with the goal of encouraging public support for archaeology, particularly in Great Britain.