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KVHS Archaeological Project
Unusual site may offer detailed look at local prehistoric life
Community gets rare invite to assist, observe
Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

KOUTS: It used to be called Eaton's Ferry, before that Pottawattomi Ford. Today the area is known as Baum's Bridge Road, but the modest little cluster of homes just north of the Jasper County line, not much different than any other country community, hides a history of the river, and the area, that goes back before written word.

For archaeologist Mark Schurr, Phd., the site is literally the find of a lifetime.

"I expected a shallow and badly disturbed site," he said of his first contact with the property owned by John and Mary Hodson and deeded to the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. Instead he found something quite different.

"There is a potential for over a meter a yard or so of layered deposits," said Schurr, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

"It has never been plowed and earlier layers may be sealed. This is important because they can tell us what life was like then.

"In 14 years I've never seen another site like this. It's very exciting." Next month, Schurr and members of his Field Study summer class at Notre Dame will return to the site for the second year, exploring a grid they began to lay out last year in hopes of uncovering the story of prehistoric life on the old Kankakee River.

"The most important thing is context," he explained to 25 community volunteers at the Kouts Library on Saturday.

"We donıt want to collect just artifacts, we want to collect artifacts with information about where they came from.

"Weıre looking for things that tell a story of life at the Collier Lodge site and we will use those artifacts to tell that story."

The volunteers, members of the KV Historical Society, will be assisting the field study class during the two-week excavation from June 14-July 1. The work will go on Mondays through Thursdays from around 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Although only paid members can assist with the project, a liability issue said Mary Hodson, members of the public are invited to visit and observe the dig.

"We strongly encourage other groups, especially school groups, to come out and observe. Hopefully there is a budding archaeologist out there," said John Hodson. "It isn't a closed-type site; it is a supervised site."

Schurr said this is an unusual opportunity for the public.

"I canıt think of another public archaeological dig done in Northern Indiana like this. It will be exciting to see how it works."

By state law, no work can go on at the site without the presence of a qualified archaeologist, Schurr himself.

Schurr went over site protocol with the volunteers Saturday, including the provision that no private collecting will be allowed.

All items from the dig will become part of the collection at Notre Dame, Schurr said, a humidity-controlled environment that will allow the items to be compared with records and other collections for further information gathering.

"We hope the ones that are interesting will come back and be on display for the community," Schurr said.

The site is especially valuable in terms of preserving history because of the unique quality that made it so popular among earlier cultures. "It will be a complex site to untangle; there are so many occupations laid over each other," said Schurr. "We will probably find stuff from every time period."

"The reason Eatonıs Ferry was there was the Kankakee was really narrow there and it was a great place to cross."

"These sites get used over and over again. It was likely a great place to cross in prehistory."

The focus will be on prehistoric and early historic layers. Schurr said prehistory is defined locally as any time before 1679, when the first written history of the area was made by a priest who kept a diary of a trip the famed French explorer LaSalle made through the area.

Schurr said he hoped to find evidence of a seasonal residence, which could include a beaten earth or poured clay floor, trash pits, smudge pits for smoking away mosquitoes, or a ring of post holes or the rotted remains of post holes.

Items that could be found in such a site could include pottery, beads, fishing and hunting items, and evidence of agriculture and diet. "The bayou was cut off there (from the new channel of the river) so itıs a pretty well preserved little area."

John Hodson said he is excited by what the ongoing excavation could tell about the area.

"What's most important to me is the continuity of the site, how the lodges came up. It will really help us out because we're going for the national register and it will help us establish what happened, when.

"It will tell us what's the history of the Kankakee River, where does everything fit in this picture here."