The Morton Village Archaeological Project is an ongoing collaborative research project between Michigan State University and the Dickson Mounds Museum (DMM), an affiliate of the Illinois State Museum. Since 2008, Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, Chair of the Anthropology Department and Associate Professor at MSU, and Dr. Michael Conner, Associate Curator of Anthropology at DMM, have trained undergraduates and volunteers in excavation and laboratory techniques at the Morton Village site, located on the Emiquon Preserve, within 2 miles of the Dickson Mounds Museum, on land owned by the Nature Conservancy.
Educating the public about archaeology and creating advocates for preservation and research is of growing importance. While first-hand experiences are invaluable, digital technology offers innovative ways to reach larger audiences. Mapping Morton Village focuses on making a portion of the Morton Village Archaeological Project available to the public, through a digital cultural map of the site. This map includes information on archaeological procedures and theoretical background for archaeological research. We hope to promote awareness of the incredible work that Michigan State University, the Illinois State Museum, and Dickson Mounds Museum have done to protect the cultural heritage of Illinois. This project makes archaeological research accessible to the public, which will hopefully create advocates who support and promote archaeological research. Further, it helps to promote knowledge and understanding of Illinois history in the digital age.
Within archaeology, there is a constant debate on how much information to give to the public about a site’s location. There is a spectrum of how much site location information should be provided to the public, it is not a binary issue between providing or not providing details about the site location. Do you share the exact location, generalize its whereabouts, or not provide anything at all? While there is a large push within archaeology itself to become more open to the public, and sharing as much information as possible, it also must be remembered that this could put archaeological sites at risk for looting. This topic needs to be addressed more because of the adoption of digital outreach in archaeology. In the creation of Mapping Morton Village, we carefully considered this issue.
The Morton Village site is located within a lush river valley in Illinois where archaeology has been of interest to professional and amateur archaeologists for a very long time and local residents and collectors are already aware of most of the larger archaeological sites in the river valley, including Morton Village. One of the goals of the Morton Village Project has been to increase public awareness of archaeology through an ‘open to visitors’ policy during excavation, well publicized annual open house events, and adult and high school excavation programs all facilitated by Dickson Mounds Museum and the Nature Conservancy. The Mapping Morton Village Project was designed to enhance these other public outreach efforts.
Our decision to show the public the location of the archaeological site, it’s possible subsurface structures, and the landform was made with the input of the lead archaeologists. The well-known nature of the site and its location on protected land along with the goal of furthering public engagement with the research here influenced the decisions about our mapping project. We hope our work presented in Mapping Morton Village will provide more meaningful ways to engage broader audiences in archaeology.