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MURPHYSBORO -- An archaeological dig at Southern Illinois Airport has uncovered artifacts dating back to about 1,000 years ago.

Patrick Durst, Statewide Survey Coordinator with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, said his crew has discovered five house plots from the Mississippian Era, which was about 1100 AD or so.

He said the area located on airport property could have been a Native American community. The tribes would have existed before any recognized tribes known today.

Durst said he had discovered nearly 40 different areas within the area just off Fox Farm Road, leading to remnants from the Mississippian Era.

Gary Shafer, airport manager at Southern Illinois Airport, said he knew the area had history.

“This is not anything new to us,” he said. “But this ended up being much denser than we anticipated.”

“However, it is fascinating to look at things from the history of the area.”

Shafer said the excavation at the airport is necessary in knowing where future road developments can be placed.

“The work in the pre-historic area is designed to identify an acceptable alignment for the future relocation of Fox Farm Road,” he said. “So that we can eliminate the current east and west section of that road and, ultimately, extend the runway.”

Durst said the dig also uncovered a stone ax, which is most likely from the archaic period in North America. The tool would be thousands of years old, much before the Mississippian Era. He said the stone ax would have been used for cutting trees and wood.

“It is pretty neat when you pick something up that nobody has touched for thousands of years,” Durst said.

Brad Koldehoff, chief archaeologist with the Illinois Department of Transportation, said by doing the excavation at the airport, archaeologists can determine what people lived in the area and at what time.

“If we didn't do the excavations and the site was just dug and plowed over, we would never know the origins of some of the artifacts found,” he said.

Durst said his crew has outlined specific areas within the site, especially where the Mississippian Era houses were found, and will dig deeper to see what can be found.

“We are going to excavate those houses, collect all the data, so when we piece this back together later, we can create a clear picture of what was happening here,” Durst said. “It is exciting because you never know what you will find”

Durst said crews will remain on the site for a couple more weeks searching for more artifacts.

Shafer said once the excavation is complete, the airport will complete its requirements before redevelopment.

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Dustin Duncan is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering Carbondale.

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