Since 1953, the Center for American Archeology has engaged in archaeological scholarship, education, and stewardship within the Lower Illinois Valley. The CAA began its work September 17 of that year when Stuart Struever filed articles of incorporation to found Archaeological Research Incorporated (ARI) as a not-for-profit institution to promote and engage in the science of archaeology in the Eastern United States. Over the ensuing decades, ARI grew to become the Foundation for Illinois Archeology (1970) and, in time, the Center for American Archeology (1981). During the course the Center’s institutional development, it has expanded its mission to include not only archaeological research, but also archaeological education via its many field schools and public education programs, and stewardship of material record of prehistoric peoples and their lifeways.
During the CAA’s early years, research and excavation of Lower Illinois Valley prehistory was the main focus of Struever and his colleagues. Investigations focused on Middle Woodland, or “Hopewellian” occupations of the valley between ca 50 BC - AD 250, initially as a result of Struever’s excavations at the Kamp Mounds group, and later at residential sites within the valley (e.g. Apple Creek, Macoupin, and Snyders). As part of this research agenda, surveys and excavations were carried out by students from Northwestern University under Struever’s guidance. It was also during this time that the CAA began to make serious contributions to archaeological methodology, central to which was the introduction of water separation by Stuart and Alice Struever. Recovery of small ecofacts and artifacts spurred new research by specialists in paleobotany, faunal analysis and malecology, laying a cornerstone theme to the Center’s scholarly history: interdisciplinary approaches to the archaeological record. As a result of this engagement, research associated with the early CAA contributed significantly to our understanding of prehistoric subsistence strategies and of the emergence of the Eastern Horticultural Complex.
In 1970, the Center engaged upon its most ambitious field project: Koster. For a decade, the Koster excavations would reconfigure the Center in significant ways. The high visibility of the Koster project focused increased institutional attention on public outreach and education, increasing university field school and high school excavation enrollments to new heights. During this period excavation occurred not only at Koster, but also at four additional sites within the valley. At the same time, the Center grew to include graduate student and professional archaeologists and a large support staff. Permanent staff numbers increased dramatically and, at its apogee, annual public visitation to the Koster site exceeded 10,000 people! These visitors included not only archaeologists and their students, but also broad sections of the public and the press.
Koster was not only an archaeological spectacle; it changed the way in which ancient Midwestern hunter-foragers would be understood. Drawing on a wide range of specialists, Koster generated new knowledge of Archaic peoples, their lifeways, subsistence practices, and residency practices. In addition, the need for better knowledge of past landscapes became evidence as archaeologists worked to interpret the massive amount of data generated by the excavation.
During the 1980s, the Center’s excavation and research agenda was dominated by Contract Archaeology. Led by Ken Farnsworth for most of its history, the Contract Program began 1974. Central to the contract era, over 600 sites were identified as part of the Central Illinois Expressway program, which refocused CAA-based work outside of the main Illinois River trench and into the adjacent uplands. Since its inception, the Contract Program’s researchers have completed over 500 reports of investigations for over 30 federal, state and local agencies. During the 1980s and 1990s, the CAA benefited greatly from the commitment of Illinois state agencies, especially the Illinois Department of Transportation, to dissemination of research results to a variety of audiences.
The CAA has also played an important role in the emergence of bioarchaeology as a specialty within archaeological practice. Excavations of prehistoric cemeteries and analyses by scholars such as Jane Buikstra and Della Cook, among others, lead to the development of a research focus on population-based, human biology of the past, with special sensitivity to archaeological contexts. The richness of archaeological record here facilitated diachronic study of topics such as health and disease in the past, mortuary practices, genetic/biological relationships, diet, and paleodemography. Bioarchaeology has since taken on a life of its own and continues to be a popular field of study.
At the turn of the millennium, the CAA continues to advance its goals of archaeological investigation, educational outreach and cultural stewardship. Ongoing research continues to explore the lifeways of prehistoric peoples, with continued excavations at Mound House and The Buried of Gardens of Kampsville by university and Education Program crews, respectively.
The CAA Education Program and associated outreach programs continues to serve vast numbers of students, families, and the general public as part of our public education goals. Included among these is our Women in Archeology program, which encourages women to pursue careers in science. Our partnerships with local schools have encouraged innovative approaches to teaching science and communication skills. In the course of such efforts, we have been linked to classrooms across Illinois as part of a remote learning experience. The wide range of Education Programs available are detailed on our site.
In addition to our outreach projects, the CAA remains committed to archaeological research and collaboration with scholars across disciplines. As detailed on our Current Research pages of this site, we continue research geared toward investigating and documenting the lives of prehistoric peoples. We encourage you to explore those areas of the site.