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KVHS Archaeological Project
Archaeological group diggin' dig in Kouts
By Brian Williams
Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2004

KOUTS -- About 30 volunteers showed up Monday for an archaeological dig led by University of Notre Dame archaeology professor Mark Schurr at a site near Baum's Bridge on the Kankakee River.

In a quick two-day dig last summer, Schurr's teams found about 240 artifacts, including pottery pieces dating back 900 years to the Upper Mississippian culture. They also found English pottery and pieces of handblown glass from the period of European settlement in the early 1800s.

Schurr hopes the dig, on a 3/4-acre site adjacent to the 1898 Collier Lodge, will determine if there are datable layers in the subsoil.

"There could be older stuff buried deeper there," he said. "We just don't know."

Schurr hopes to locate potential hot spots with specialized instruments that measure the magnetism of the soil and its ability to conduct electricity. That would help pinpoint foundations, packed-earth floors or concentrations of bricks.

Once likely spots are identified, the volunteers will excavate 2- to 4-square-meter squares, "very carefully," Schurr said. "This area held so much history," said John Hodson, president of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society. "Hardly anyone knows about it."

Because of the river's solid banks, the location has been the site of fords and bridges for thousands of years, Hodson said. It was a crossroads for prehistoric Native Americans, the French explorer LaSalle in 1679 and prominent figures from the 19th century like Native American leader Tecumseh, general and author Lew Wallace and President Harrison.

"The archaeology is a way to open up people to the history of the area," Hodson said.

Volunteer Judy Judge rode out Monday's downpour under an inadequate tent. "I'm drying out now," the Kouts resident said. "It'll feel good when that sun comes out." Judge, 63, said she wouldn't be deterred from digging. She watched the work last year and decided to use her vacation time to give it a try this year because of her interest in the Potawatomi. "There are a lot of arrowheads you find in this area," she said.

Schurr is not promising 1,000-year-old finds, but he does note that objects have been found in the general vicinity that date back 10,000 years.

"You never know," he said.

For Sophie Wojihoski, that's part of the thrill.

She is not expecting to spot a 2 1/2-million-year-old elephant bone in the next three weeks. But if anyone can, it probably would be this 84-year-old retired English teacher. Waiting out the slashing rain, the Portage resident told of volunteering at digs around the world over the past 20 years. In addition to the ancient elephant's skeletal fragment, she has unearthed a Neanderthal knife, a 2-inch molar and petrified animal droppings.

As if to demonstrate her prowess, Wojihoski spotted first one, then a second blackened penny in the pebbled path as she emerged from the shelter of a barn.

"It's exciting to find something so old. That elephant bone, that was the most exciting thing in my life." Brian Williams can be reached at bwilliams@nwitimes.com or (219) 462-5151, ext. 348.