March 20, 2019

Michael McNerney wins 2019 SIU Delta Award from SIU’s Friends of Morris Library

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Michael J. McNerney, retired archaeologist and author is the winner of the 2019 Delta Award from the Friends of Morris Library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

McNerney will receive his award at a presentation and reception at 5 p.m. on April 17 at Morris Library.

The event is free and open to the public.

Award honors McNerney’s work

The Friends of Morris are presenting the Delta Award to McNerney in recognition of his extensive archaeological efforts and his writings about it. He has been active not only in researching and documenting significant archaeological sites, but also in helping preserve cultural resources. The Carbondale man is a past president of the Illinois State Historical Society and served as staff archaeologist at the SIU Museum before becoming a consulting archaeologist and founder of American Resources Group in 1979.

He holds degrees from the University of South Dakota and University of Nebraska.

Learn more about gravemarkers and their history

The evening begins with a presentation by McNerney in the John C. Guyon Auditorium. He will show a PowerPoint and discuss “A Shape in Time and Space: The Migration of the Necked Discoid Gravemarker – The Illinois Sample.” That’s also the title of a 2017 McNerney book, published by Borgo Publishing.

The “necked discoid” in the title refers to a stone or wooden grave marker which has a top featuring a discoid (circular) “head” and a “neck” on top of a rectangular “body.” The effigy-shaped monuments, which mark human remains, originated in Europe and later moved with early settlers to the Carolinas, then the Appalachians and on to Southern Illinois by the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The migration continued to Oklahoma. Numerous examples are found on the Coastal Plain and in areas of the Piedmont and North Carolina mountains.   

You can find examples of the unique stones in 15 Golconda/Pope County cemeteries alone.

Decades of research contribute to McNerney’s speech

McNerney’s earlier research appeared in “Early Pioneer Gravestones of Pope County, Illinois,” a pamphlet published by American Kestrel Books in 1994 in conjunction with Herb Meyer. The company is a division of American Resources Group, McNerney’s Carbondale archaeological company that was created to “disseminate the results of our historical and archaeological research projects to the general public.”

As McNerney tracked the gravestone style from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma, he documented about 485 markers, including 333 with inscribed death dates and surnames. They are located within 14 states, 79 counties and 185 cemeteries.

The “Shape in Time and Space” book highlights 41 cemeteries and 81 markers in a dozen Southern Illinois counties. These are part of the overall project involving 22 years of research that extended to four countries abroad, including Ireland and Spain. The large U.S. sample provides a unique historical, cultural, economic, technological and migratory context for nearly 300 years of growth and westward expansion.

Book signing and reception

Following McNerney’s presentation, he will sign copies of his recently published book. The evening wraps up with a reception and light refreshments in the first-floor rotunda about 6 p.m.