Interstate commerce is not just a feature of the modern automotive age nor the day of the ox and cart. Interstate commerce was occurring eons before the wheel was applied to the axle and time was marked B.C.
The native American in their various tribes and periods of civilizations carried on wide-ranging trade all across the nation throughout history—ah, pre-written history. Evidence of that is still discovered here in the Northwest Illinois.
In recent years, too, newer sophisticated techniques, scientifical and curiosity(!) have found that what was thought to be true or possible is actually not so.
Manufacture, distribution and trade were even more widespread than thought. These facts have become known through examination of “grave goods” found in mounds built by past civilizations. Re-examination of those artifacts is like a rediscovery.
Mounds of many sorts are found throughout our part of the planet ... Albany, Thomson, JoDaviess county and many, many in Whiteside county. A map of the State of Illinois is solid with the mounds so far discovered. Some are not reported.
An interesting thing about some of the larger mounds is that, too, like those that are well-known mark the solstices, solar and lunar events also. They were built by mathematical equation ... Some though are simple covering of the dead, individual or groups, families.
There were three centers of civilizations in successive, overlapping periods, the first being Poverty Point in Louisiana whose construction of a major mound was begun 1500 B.C. and lasted about eight hundred years. It was named for the plantation on which it was found. It rests about twelve miles west of the Mississippi, has a central mound and several smaller ones. It is an intricate in its layout of earthworks and is a quarter mile across and was probably residence to five hundred people at its height of population.
Clay balls have been numerously found there to give it more distinction, these before the “invention” of pots and kettles. They were heated and put with food in hides or baskets to cook the menu. They were widely traded and some from Poverty Point are found as far away as Florida.
Despite that primitive cooking method the people there obviously imported goods because copper and slate from Michigan and soapstone from the Appalachians are found there, this three thousand years ago.
Of the three important mound civilizations in America the largest is at Cahokia, Illinois evolving, rebuilding, changing from its probable beginning in 900 A.D. and persisting until at least 1500 A.D., about the time of the arrival of the first Europeans and subsequent settlement. As white settlement occurred there was no one at Cahokia which was strange because it is believed that from 15,000 to 38,000 had lived in proximity to the major mound and the dozens of smaller ones. It was the largest city in all of America and exceeded the population of most European cities.
It’s unfortunate that we learn so little about the archeological, anthropological history of our state, Illinois. It is such a vital and braggable (!!) part of our make-up. Monk’s Mound, the central mound at Cahokia, for instance, covers fifteen acres, is 1000 ft. by 700 feet and is 100 feet high. It is estimated to contain 1.5 million tons of earth, that, you realize, moved by man in the day before horsepower of any kind.
It is the largest earthen mound in the world and exceeds the Egyptian pyramids in volume ... This in Illinois, mind you! Did we know about the cultures that created it?
What we know is found in the “grave goods.” How they lived, what they traded and so forth because we don’t know whatever happened to its people who more or less vanished without a trace. There was no written language, remember, so we have to learn from the burial goods left behind.
It was during the Mississippian culture that made it the most important city in North America. It was a very major, history-changing situation that occurred there; a rather rapid, it’s found, switch to agriculture from the more hunter-gatherer type of society.
Because it was such an important spiritual center, maize (corn) was raised for the residents and for the pilgrims that came to worship. It was a ceremonial feature. But as the place became agricultural, and why not, it being in the very fertile American Bottoms, corn became such an important crop that it could then be used for human consumption and traded for other items needed or desired a more easy lifestyle began to manifest itself.
At the time of its high point in its civilizations, effigy mounds began to appear, those being low mounds in the shape of animals, etc. The Serpent Mound near Chillicothe, Ohio is the prime example of such, being 1,348 feet in length and well-defined. Its head points towards the summer solstice. (Other connections of mounds and accompanying constructions such as posts/tree trunks to solar and lunar astronomical events are now realized; “Woodhenge” at Cahokia is just one.)
An effigy mound can be seen near by as Beattie Park at the Rock River in Rockford near its public library. Other effigies are high above the Mississippi at Marquette, Iowa across the river from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Well worth the long climb!
The mounds at Chillicothe have been the example studied to give us some insight into past civilizations and in recent years diffraction and other newer methods of study have brought much new knowledge to light concerning the artifacts that have been given other prevalence. All is not what it seemed to be although it was an important center for resources valuable to the population; resources such as a sizeable salt lick, the Old Scioto Salt Lick, that drew both human and animal users; an outcropping of iron oxide that provided red ochre to make red paint for ceremonial purposes and a quarry where pipestone was obtained.
Pipestone was one of the most sought after features of early day Indian civilizations and was an important and valuable trades goods. This center traded widely for copper from upper Michigan, with slate, too, chert and many other items that came in not only by interstate commerce but with the several times a year pilgrimages from all parts of eastern North America to ceremonies of spiritual significance.
The pilgrims would trade hides and items from their own environments and in return obtain such things as pipestone to make the ceremonial pipes used to call upon the Greater Being or solve some problem within the tribe or reach emotional serenity. Pipes weren’t just “peace pipes,” as they were too often called.
Pipestone is raw flint clay and is workable because of its texture carved into meaningful objects, not only pipe bowls but effigies, some whimsical, some menacing, some very sophisticated in their character.
The site in the Scioto River valley had that abundance of resource as well as fertile soil to raise crops. Although for centuries wild plants had been gathered for food, it was eventually found that maize could also become an annual crop so seeds once harvested for food were now cultivated along with the corn and the diversity grew, making the place even more of a pilgrims’ objective or a place to trade.
The Feurt Hill Ridge was long believed to be the goal for obtaining its pipestone. On closer, more recent study, however, its flint clay was not as widely traded as once thought.
And, too, the red pipestone from Minnesota that has gotten such big play over the years had not the only fame here in the Midwest as once believed. It did become so famous however that the Pipestone National Monument was developed to preserve the valuable chapters of history from centuries past and a Pipestone Preservation Association formed to keep the long time traditions alive. They preserve the ceremonies spiritual and emotional, that were the purpose of sharing the pipe. That pipestone, however, was used mostly by the Plains Indian tribes; the Ojibwa, Arikara, Cree, Mandan and so forth.
It’s the greenish-gray of the Ohio and ILLINOIS pipestone that were found in the mounds of the Midwest, yes, from Illinois.
There were three types of pipes used for the ceremonial: simple tube pipe, an L-shaped model or “elbow” and the effigy whose bowl is an animal, human head or representation of a recognizable figure. The pictures here are copied from “Pipes of the Plains” by Robert Murray and are only two of the basic types of tube pipes. They of the red pipestone from Minnesota, not so widely found hereabouts where the greenish-gray sorts are more numerous; those from Ohio, you ask? No, now it’s believed they originated from Illinois. Yes, from Illinois and right at our doorstep in Whiteside County which growing information is accumulating that tells us that our region was really a center of interstate commerce before there were states.