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Archaeological Study Begins Along Kankakee
Local history buffs, Notre Dame instructor hope to find clues to area's prehistoric settlers.
By David Mitchell
Times Staff Writer
June 13, 2004

Along a stretch of road winding through dense trees and a fertile landscape just south of Kouts, a group of University of Notre Dame students armed with buckets and shovels gathered on the lawn next to the old Collier Lodge.

The building, which sits along the bank of the Kankakee River, once played host to presidents and European royalty in the glory days when hunting and trapping lodges along the river drew the rich and famous to the area.

Evidence also suggests the land the lodge sits on may have been a stopping point for numerous cultures thousands of years ago. On Thursday, Mark Schurr, an associate professor of anthropology at the university, led the students through the preliminary steps of a field study that could offer insight into prehistoric civilizations that passed through, and perhaps stayed, in the area.

"Right now, they want to see what they come up with," said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society, who deeded the land to the group. "This is a preliminary step to come back in the future."The initial study will end today. Hodson hopes there is enough evidence to prompt Schurr back to finish the job. If history is any measuring stick, there should be.

According to Hodson, three burial sites were found in the early 1900s. A skull was found in one, skeletal remains in the other two.

"We know that this had been inhabited," Hodson said.

There were also reports some time ago about prehistoric pottery that was unearthed in the area around the lodge, Schurr said.

"There was a site reported back here in the 1930s, that (noted artifacts) that were at least 2,000 years old," he said.

Schurr became interested in the area while conducting an earlier study of burial mounds in Porter County. What is unknown, and what he hopes to find out, is information regarding those responsible for the mounds. Given the evidence already found and how the landscape leading to the river would have been a good place for a prehistoric traveler to settle, Schurr was confident the study would yield some interesting results.

"This would be a logical stopping place for thousands of years," he said. "I know we're going to see stuff."

On the first day, the students set up a grid to map out the area. Remote sensing and magnetic survey equipment then was used to get indications about what was below the surface and determine where they would dig holes.

Once a pilot hole was dug, students sifted the dirt back into the hole through a screen, filtering out any objects of interest. Anything potentially archaic was marked and bagged to go back to the lab for further study.

Meanwhile, the lodge itself just went through a stabilization process. The next step is a feasibility study so the group can move along with renovations. Hodson said the historical society is also in the final stages of getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For Hodson, it is the area as much as the lodge that is an amazing and important slice of history.

"It's the story, the history. One feeds the other. People have been coming here for thousands of years," he said.

* David Mitchell can be reached at dmitchell@nwitimes.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 346.