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Dickson Mounds (Illinois State Museum)

Historical Site Category: Native American History

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What's The Story

Dickson Mounds provides the best overview of Illinois River Valley Native American history. The Museum features exhibits and audio-visual programs that recount the development of Native American life in the Illinois River valley.

The exhibits tell a story that begins with Native Americans arriving near the end of the Ice Age when colossal creatures such as the American Mastodon still roamed the Illinois landscape and proceeds to recount the development of gathering and hunting, gardening, and farming ways of life. A substantial part of the exhibit is dedicated the rise and fall of the Mississippian way of life, circa A.D. 1100 to 1400. Sustained by the cultivation of maize, communities of several hundred people supported by a network of small hamlets and farmsteads were located on elevated landforms such as floodplain terraces, the base of bluffs where tributary streams enter the Illinois River valley, and on the bluffs overlooking the river valley floor.

An exhibit titled Conflict and Change is based on the Museum’s excavation of the remains of a nearby 700-year-old community, which reveals what life was like after the Mississippian way of life declines and Native Americans from other regions moved into the Illinois River valley. Further change occurs with the challenges posed by the arrival of the French.

A reconstructed log cabin with a comprehensive display of Euro-American artifacts on the first level of the Museum provides a striking contrast between early 19th century American settlement and the lifeways of contemporary Native Americans.

To learn more:

Please be advised, this report contains graphic images of human skeletons:

Harn, Alan D. 1980. The Prehistory of Dickson Mounds: The Dickson Excavation (revised). Illinois State Museum, Reports of Investigations 35, Dickson Mounds Museum Anthropological Studies 1.

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