Course Description

Learn what the Chicagolands area was like before its current settlement while being introduced to important concepts in archaeology and don’t worry if you don’t know any of the terminology used in archaeology. Great Lakes Archaeologist, Dan Melone, will discuss the people of the pre-settlement and contact periods, early pioneer Chicago, and what was left behind. He will emphasize Indigenous cultures and early farm settlements with discussions about how archaeological field methods preserve local archaeological sites. Dan will also discuss his current archaeological investigations of sites throughout the Chicagoland area, adding to the growing knowledge of our great city's past.

Course Outline


The course will examine the archaeological periods of the Chicagolands area focusing on sites that have been excavated and interpreted for both Euro and Native Americans.

  • An understanding of the Pleistocene Epoch or in common terms, the Ice Age, occurred when glaciers entered Illinois and lasted between about 2.4 million years to 10,000 years ago.
    • What was it? What kind of terrain? What animals lived here? Who arrived first?
  • The Paleo-Indian Period:
    • Hunting and gathering, tools, population density, influences from seasonal changes throughout the year, geographic distribution, availability of water, and topography.
  • The Archaic Period:
    • Description of sub-periods: Early, Middle, and Late. The tools and weapons of Archaic People were different from their Paleo-Indian predecessors and continued to improve upon their technology to reflect new game animals being hunted. Semi-permanent and permanent settlements will be discussed, population increase, use of plant species, burial customs.
  • The Woodland Period:
    • Environmental change, population increased, and like the Archaic Period, the Woodland Period is characterized by having three parts Early, Middle and Late. A distinction for this period is the invention of pottery and it should be noted that containers before the Woodland Period were comprised of hide, wood, and plant fibers. Woodland Period people formed semi-permanent villages and seasonal hunting, vast trade networks, and early agriculture.
  • The Mississippian Period:
    • The final stage of prehistoric people in and around Chicago is called the Mississippian Period. Their lifestyle was a dramatic change from Woodland Period predecessors in that they lived a more settled life. The Mississippian people are known to have had a large-scale trade system (although long distance trade had been going on for 3,000 years), the distance of trade being much farther than any of the previous prehistoric groups. Not only were goods traded but ideas as well and because of this Mississippians became the major trading hub in the Midwest through their Southern Illinois city, Cahokia.
  • Late Prehistoric Phase and Protohistoric Phase:
    • Beginning around 700 years ago, the latter would have been documented by early explorers of the Chicago and Illinois region. The Late Prehistoric Phase ended around 1673, entering into what would be known as the Historic or Contact Period. Discussed here is the impact of European contact and a landscape almost devoid of humans.
  • Archaeological Methodology, Past and Present Contributors:
    • The methods used to find and preserve sites. How to use archival resources, institutions, interviews, maps, aerials, and satellite imagery. What do the cultural materials tell us? How do we interpret them?
    • Contributions will highlight the work of several early antiquarian archaeologists, Avocational archaeologists, and professional archaeologists.
  • Virtual Site Tours and Examination:
    • Utilizing photographs of what has been found, students will be able to learn about the hundreds of sites throughout the Chicagoland area. Photos of artifacts, landscapes, and buildings will be used. Specific site locations will not be revealed.


This class will be conducted online using Blackboard and Blackboard Collaborate
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