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WIU Archaeologists to Dig at Orendorf and Rice Lake Terrace Sites

February 20, 2017

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MACOMB, IL - Western Illinois University Anthropology Professor Andrea Alveshere will lead the 2017 WIU Archaeological Field School, excavating at the Orendorf and Rice Lake Terrace archaeological sites, just west of Banner in Fulton County, IL. The class will be held June 5-July 28.

Orendorf sits atop a bluff, overlooking the Illinois River Valley, and the Rice Lake Terrace site is located on a low terrace, just below Orendorf, on the shore of Rice Lake.

WIU faculty and students, and colleagues from the Upper Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Foundation (UMVARF), have conducted excavations at the Orendorf site several times since 1977, but there is much more to learn. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Orendorf excavations revealed evidence of the origins of Middle Mississippian Culture in the Central Illinois Valley in pits filled with pottery, tools, bones and shells.

The pottery was particularly exciting because it showed the gradual growth of Mississippian influence at the site. The earliest pits showed an earlier style of local pottery, known as Maples Mills, named after a nearby modern village.

The slightly later pits yielded a pottery collection of a type of pottery known as Mossville, attributable to a later generation of the same people, and the latest pits yielded a collection of Mossville and Mississippian pottery, possibly indicating a movement of people into the area from the gigantic Cahokia Mounds Mississippian site near modern-day East St. Louis, IL.

The origins and spread of the Mississippian Culture, which is also represented locally at the Dickson Mounds near Lewiston, IL, has long been a subject of debate among archaeologists.

In contrast to the long history of excavations at Orendorf, the Rice Lake Terrace site has been the subject of only very limited previous investigations. Located just below the Orendorf site, on an Illinios River backwater lake that is still a major destination for waterfowl hunters today, preliminary testing and surface collection at the Rice Lake Terrace site indicate that it has been a popular gathering spot for millennia. Artifacts representing every archaeological period from Early Archaic through Middle Mississippian have been identified at the site, suggesting a time depth spanning 8,000-10,000 years. The lifeways of residents during the millennia of activities at this site will be fascinating to explore, as will the relationships between the activities at Rice Lake Terrace and the Orendorf site, just up the bluff, during the Middle Mississippian period.

"I am optimistic that this summer's work will shed important new light on questions about prehistoric lifeways and cultural dynamics in the Central Illinois Valley. I'm very pleased to offer our students this opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research, which will advance our understanding of American prehistory," said Alveshere. "In the past, crews encountered the Orendorf pit features serendipitously, while investigating the adjacent burial mounds. This year, we will have the benefit of a series of remote-sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar, resistivity and electromagnetic survey. Surveys applying these techniques will be conducted this spring and will generate maps indicating possible pits, structures and other features that will be used to target the summer excavations. No excavations will be conducted in the burial mounds."

In addition to decades of archaeological field experience, Alveshere worked for several years as a forensic scientist at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. While the focus of this summer's excavations will be prehistoric materials, Alveshere will also discuss and demonstrate the survey, excavation and evidence collection techniques that are used in forensic archaeological investigations at crime scenes and mass-disaster sites.

Field school registration is open to WIU students, as well as students from other institutions and non-degree-seeking students. All students will register for six hours of WIU credit. In addition to tuition, students will pay a $399 field school fee. Lodging is available for students without Macomb-area housing for an additional $399 for the full eight-week session.

For priority consideration, applications, accompanied by a $100 deposit, which is non-refundable, unless the applicant is not accepted into the program, must be received by March 1. For additional details about the field school, visit, or contact Alveshere at

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