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Forest Preserves, ISAS and The Field Museum to Host Cultural History Forum

During a free forum, “The Cultural History of the Forest Preserves: Prehistoric Villages to Contemporary Communities,” at The Field Museum on Saturday, November 5, 2016, attendees will discover what the Forest Preserves’ archaeological sites can tell us about the region’s past, how it’s shaped our present, and what we must do to protect it in the future.

In 2015, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, in partnership with the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, presented the first formalized document strategizing the prioritization of habitat restoration and archaeological preservation throughout the Preserves: The Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan.

According to the plan, the entire history of human occupation in the Chicago area, from 12,000 years ago to the present day, can be found in the more than 600 archaeological sites in the Forest Preserves. The Chicago area has a long tradition as a crossroads where diverse cultural groups and their ideas have converged. Archaeological sites throughout the Forest Preserves can tell us how humans lived and organized themselves in the past, and why populations settled in this region.

“When developing the Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan, the Forest Preserves was able to work with numerous scientists and technicians,” explained John McCabe, director of resource management. “One of our Next Century Conservation Plan goals is to restore 30,000 acres over the next 25 years. While doing so, our region’s cultural history needs to be considered in addition to the land quality and wildlife.”

“The 70,000 acres of Forest Preserves holdings are in areas that have always been most attractive to human settlement and use – lands along rivers and small drainages, resource-rich wetlands and backwater sloughs, upland moraines and prairies, and former Lake Michigan beach ridges. Most of the archaeological sites located outside of protected Forest Preserve property have been destroyed by 150 years of urban development,” said Paula Porubcan, field station coordinator with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. “It is no exaggeration to say that our best, and often only, opportunities to learning about the early residents of northeastern Illinois lie on lands preserved and managed by the Forest Preserves.”

The forum will include welcoming remarks by Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and presentations from archaeologists, historians and experts on the Chicago area’s prehistory, early history and contemporary Native American communities. November 5 is also National Bison Day, and speakers will present on the historical and present day significance of bison and their impact on the natural and cultural landscape. Presentations include:

  • “A Plan for the Forest Preserves’ Cultural Resources,” John McCabe, Forest Preserves of Cook County
  • “Archaeology of Cook County: 12,000 Years of Human Occupation,” Dr. Thomas Loebel, Illinois State Archaeological Survey
  • “The Late Prehistoric Era in the Chicago Area, A. D. 1200 – 1600,” Douglas Jackson, Illinois State Archaeological Survey
  • “When Chicago Became Real Estate,” Ann Keating, North Central College
  • “From Lost Species to U.S. National Mammal,” Keith Aune, American Bison Coalition
  • “Buffalo Restoration: The Native American Perspective,” Jim Stone, Inter Tribal Buffalo Council

Following the program, attendees will be able to participate in a question and answer session with presenters, moderated by The Field Museum’s Chicago Region Program Director Mark Bouman, and view artifacts recovered in the Forest Preserves. Also, attendees who purchase a ticket to The Field Museum for Nov. 5, 2016 are invited to join an optional 45-minute docent-led exhibit tour beginning at 4 pm.

The forum is co-hosted by The Field Museum, the Illinois Archaeological Survey and the Forest Preserves of Cook County. 

Archaeological Site Tours

After the forum, the public will be invited to join in on two guided archaeological site tours at Oak Forest Heritage Preserve and Blue Star Memorial Woods.

During the Blue Star Memorial Woods tour at Camp Skokie Valley POW camp tour, attendees will learn about the archaeological remains of this interesting period of Cook County’s past, including surviving roadways, foundations, drainage systems, and perhaps most remarkably the remains of a guard tower on the river bank.

The Oak Forest Heritage Preserve site tour will highlight the natural features of the landscape that made this area attractive to Native American settlement and how the current landscape protects these sites.