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Genealogists Learn About Ancient Artifacts

Cherie Kuhn drew a crowd of people interested in Madison County history, and in ancient Indian cultures, at a recent gathering in Edwardsville. Photo by Charles Feldman

By Charles Feldman, Reporter

They still find them in creek beds. While plowing fields. Sometimes when the ground is turned up after a long, long time, they turn up too.

The tools and weapons of Indian cultures long gone before the very first pioneer families built their cabins here in Madison County.

The descendants of those pioneers, as well as other interested parties, gathered on Thursday, March 14 in the basement of the Edwardsville Public Library to hear Cherie Kuhn speak about those arrowheads, adzes and other artifacts at the monthly meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society.

Kuhn is affiliated with Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and the Illinois State Archaeology Society. She does various programs at the Staunton Public Library. This was her first Indian program, and she planned to repeat it there a few weeks after speaking to the genealogists.

Little evidence of the famous mounds was among the ancient Indian artifacts on display that night on the table nearest the lecture easel.

“I’m going to do a talk in September on all the mound-building cultures,” Kuhn said. “Right here. The Mississippian period and all the mound cultures. This is mainly the Paleo Period as far back as we can go and the Archaic Period, mainly what I’m doing tonight.”

Those eras and their artifacts are a subject that hits very close to home for Kuhn, who is from New Douglas “in the northeast corner of the county.”

“I have found a few on my farm and I hunt a lot of creeks up there,” she said. “And I buy some at artifact shows.”

Now that she’s retired, she spends more time hunting for ancient treasures on her property. “It’s pretty interesting,” she said. “I find some crazy things in the creek.”

Her hobby began when she became interested in Native American history. Now that she appreciates the work that went into creating the artifacts back in the earliest parts of human history, she is trying to make some arrowheads of her own.

“I’ve got all the rock and I’ve got all the tools. And it’s hard to do. It takes a lot of time to learn how to make them. It looks easy but it’s not.”

Getting ready for her talk, she answered questions from the genealogical society members who were interested in the items that she brought as visual aids.

“What’s this?” asked a lady, pointing to a peculiar-looking brown object.

“It’s a pestle,” Kuhn said. “Like a mortar and pestle.”

“Oh, okay, that makes sense,” the lady said. “Now that you mention it, it does look like one.”

Some members brought cardboard boxes with some of the treasures they had found.

“What have you got?” Kuhn asked a man with a graying beard and a collection.

“I’ve got a few things,” he answered. “I’m not lucky enough to get something like this,” he said, indicating the various items on display for the lecture.

“My brother found all of them,” Kuhn said, as he unpacked his findings.

“It’s four or five thousand years old,” he said, showing her the head of a spear.

Spears, according to Kuhn in her talk, were used by the earliest cultures in North America before the arrowhead was invented. Both in use after that, along with the adze and the atl-atl.

“No,” she said, examining the object. She said that it was the wrong shape. “I haven’t seen that kind of rock before,” she added.

“This is a wooden one. The Indians used that,” the man  explained further. Kuhn didn’t appear to think so.

“I’ll come back,” said the man.

Kuhn spoke of the tools from the days of the first humans and what they were used for. She held up artifacts and pointed to the charts that she brought. She talked about the kinds of food that they ate at the different times and how tools changed.

“The Paleo period goes back from 12,000 B.C. To 9,000 B.C.,” she said. “And they think that the Indians have been in Illinois about 12,000 years. So there’s artifacts everywhere. I don’t think we’ll ever find all of them.”

“Some of them are way down in the ground two to five feet,” she said.

“You just maybe find them by accident. When they’re excavating or doing a construction or a road or something they find a lot of things that way.”

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