Archaeological Institute of America program about early pipe-making in Illinois during Middle Woodland Period — part 2

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

This is the second part of the lecture delivered to the Archaeological Institute of America, Rockford Society, by Dr. Shannon M. Fie of Beloit College Thursday, Feb. 9, at Rockford’s Burpee Museum of Natural History. The first part of this series appeared in the Feb. 15-21 issue.

The PIMA system — how it works

PIMA is a technical term for Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer. This is a system to use a non-destructive technique to analyze the mineral content of pipestone. Much of this work would document the source of a new pipestone found near Sterling, Ill. At these two caches, researchers have examined the different types of pipestone represented — Tremper vs. Mound City. Seventy-two percent comes from Sterling – very different from Mound City, where only 6 percent is local materials. Not only do the pipes look different, but there was also a difference in the effort they put into getting the raw material. There is a source directly across from Ohio that they were ignoring in order to get pipestone from local stuff. It is not necessarily the pipestone that is important, but the people who created it. This was a good place to be in southern Illinois. The materials were being processed through, with no way to associate the pipe with one person. We were not necessarily flagging individuals for status. In Illinois, we have a very different burial program, Mound City, where there is a low-lying creek and individuals of high status. There are copper artifacts and people buried in a central tomb. These were items you would expect to find in the central tomb, and we find also in bundles buried with both men and women. The one distinguishing factor with pipes is that they tend to occur with people older than 40 years. It may be based on average seniority, or age of wisdom. The life expectancy at this time was about 44 years. These are individuals who would have been considered to be very mature.

Debris is important

We have some new ideas that this pipestone has changed in terms of pressure. In the Middle Woodland period, it was all about Sterling. This suggests the opportunity for many different people to have pipes, but it still doesn’t tell us who was making them. Is it for trade-out or for everybody making their own person icons? It is hard not to look at the very cool types, but at the debris from manufacturing it. This is not often found in museum collections. But there are a couple places. One is the Propheter site on the north side of the town of Sterling, on Elkhorn Creek, only about 4 km from Rock Falls. It is part of the excavation, where they found several hundred pieces of pipestone. Out of the 200-plus pieces that they found, only six really had investment in form. The vast majority of pipestones are in debris that probably came out of a creek bed. Farnsworth suggests that Elkhorn Creek is probably the source area for this pipestone. He suggests that following the transaction center model is likely. Local folks were reducing it and taking it to a small mound group. Some think it is on the way to a larger mound group in Ohio.

The Sinnissippi Mounds group of 22 are Middle Woodland mounds on a bluff overlooking the Rock River. In the 1800s, a group of people like this audience would have spent Sunday afternoon digging holes in these mounds. The only really modern work was done in the early 1960s, and on the other side, it slips down to the river. On many sites in Illinois, these overlooking slopes include the literal camp where populations were living while building the mounds. There were several source materials. There was also a pipestone gorget found with two drilled holes in it.

The big site for transaction would be Albany Mounds, located on the west side of Whiteside County. A total of 90-some mounds were built over several hundred years on the Minnesota flood plain, many of which are still there. Many of them are remnants, but not very visible. Albany Mounds has been mostly under private ownership.

Analysis and more questions

A variety of work has been done with the local collectors. But in addition to the finished objects, there is also some manufacturing debris at this site. This pipestone material may have been moving from these different modes of trade relationships. In Whiteside County, the site Dr. Fie worked on was near Prophetstown, where she went in 1975 with a couple students. She has led more than a dozen summer field school programs in locations around the Midwest, including the Lower Illinois Valley and lower Rock River Valley. She found Bracke site No. 1, listed in the Illinois state archaeological records that identified 26 different sites.

Pipestone was found throughout the field; apparently, different populations were using this raw material before and after Hopewell. There was a distribution of both pipestone and ceramics. The Sterling pipestone was of one uniform color, and some pieces were red, green or yellow. There was some deviation from the model. She noted all the activities going on. “You can come back to it six months later and see that they are accessing the pipestone and making these objects throughout the year and finishing them or starting them at various camps,” said Dr. Fie. “This was a protracted activity that took some time.”

She has analyzed debris from three different sites; she was also interested in the Gast farm in Iowa, where they had approximately 660 pieces of debris. There is nothing else even close to this at other sites. The ceramics are in the very early Hopewell period. “We would like to borrow this collection and look at it further,” Dr. Fie said.

Different pipestone sites have changed over time. We knew there was something important about the Sterling, Ill., area. The pipes were like personal property. The Tremper analysis showed that there were tube and modified-tube pipes, platform pipes and effigy pipes representing 15 genera of animals and 12 genera of birds. These were likely manufactured over a period of time, used in both rituals and domestic context.

What we need to figure out is:

• Was the pipestone acquired via trade, direct access, or either or both?

• Were finished pipes acquired via trade?

• Who made the pipes? A specialist? Men or women?

• What was the manufacturing process?

Dr. Fie explained her connection to the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College. The museum was started in 1893. Dr. Fie said, “I am an associate professor at the Department of Anthropology [at Beloit College] but also a research associate in the Logan Museum. Since I arrived, the relationship with the Logan Museum has been amazing, both with the resources and Bill Green, the director of the museum.” He was also present at the lecture given at Burpee Museum in Rockford.

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue

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