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American Indian mounds uncovered in Quincy city park

January 07, 2012 at 11:21 PM

Gatehouse News Service

Archaeologists and American Indian volunteers cleared decades’ worth of growth to reveal 11 prehistoric burial mounds in Quincy. 

“People can now come to Quincy and view these spectacular earthen monuments in a manner closer to that envisioned by the original builders,” said David Nolan of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS). 

“One can only imagine what the terraced enclosure must have looked like as you approached up and down river along the Mississippi.  It would have been visible for miles and been an awe inspiring landmark.”

The mounds and nearby earthworks in Quincy’s Indian Mounds Park date from 200 B.C. to 1,000 A.D. 

Their locations within a city park formed in the late 1800s meant that they were spared from the urban development and agricultural use that claimed thousands of similar Midwestern mounds. 

Over the years, the Quincy mounds had suffered from erosion, foot traffic, heavy vegetation growth and vandalism that had left them virtually unrecognizable. 

In 2009, Quincy area archaeologists decided it was time to return the mounds as closely as possible to their original condition.

The ISAS of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois partnered with the North American Archaeological Institute (NAAI) of Quincy and the Quincy Park District in a volunteer effort to assess the mounds’ condition and determine the best way to protect, maintain, and preserve them. 

After consulting with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency about the best way to move forward, the Park District allowed a team led by Steve Tieken of the NAAI and Nolan to clear and remove the brush and tree cover from the mounds over several weekends in November and December.

One of the first steps was to consult with spiritual leaders and elders from several different tribal affiliations who offered prayers and performed sacred pipe and drum cleansing ceremonies before and after the clearing work was complete.

Individuals from the Blackfoot, Choctaw, Chickamaka and Tsalagiyi Nvdagi Cherokee, Gabrieleno/Tongva, Ho Chunk, Iroquois, Nueta (Mandan) and the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribes took part in these ceremonies.

The clearing work revealed the presence of a terraced embankment with an enclosure surrounding three of the mounds that was only hinted at in University of Chicago archaeological survey work done of the area in the 1920s. 

Prior to the clearing work, few were aware that such a complex, ancient earthwork was present in the park. 

The result may be one of the best preserved earthwork complexes that are still evident in this part of the Upper Mississippi River valley.

“The Quincy Mound Preservation Project has become a shining example of how municipalities, archaeologists and the American Indian community can successfully work together, hand in hand, to protect and preserve important historical sites, ensuring a lasting legacy of Native American history for generations to come,” said Tieken.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency administers state laws governing work on sites like those in Quincy, including the Archaeological and Paleontological Resources Protection Act and the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act. 

The agency authorized and monitored the work in Quincy, and is pleased with the result.  For more information on state archaeology laws and programs, visit

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