21. Millstone Bluff

For a number of decades, and even centuries, the Millstone Bluff site has captured the imagination of archaeologists and many others. It is an island amidst the hills and can be clearly seen for miles. Its most prominent feature is its location on a hilltop deep in the interior uplands of the Shawnee Hills, a seemingly unusual setting for such a large prehistoric village with a stone box cemetery, carved petroglyphs and an undisturbed village and plaza. However, because of its prominent location, it is noticeable to nearly everyone who passes through southeastern Illinois... and has piqued the curiosity of nearly everyone who has seen it. Archaeological features visible on the site’s surface include approximately 23 vandalized stone box graves, the unplowed remains of 25 Mississippian semi-subterranean house basins surrounding a plaza area and petroglyph, most noticeably a falcon, a person, cross-in-circles and many other classic prehistoric designs. The remains of a stone wall or stone fort associated with the Late Woodland culture is also present. Archaeological excavations of the houses determined that all the floors suggested that the prehistoric inhabitants had removed most of their belongings prior to abandoning each house. Many of the structures were also burned. This combination of burned structures and very clean house floors indicates that the houses were abandoned in an orderly fashion and probably burned intentionally to rid the site of insects and rodents. Aside from the houses, archaeologists also found the remains of food storage pits as well as artifacts such as stone tools and pottery fragments. Radiocarbon dates indicate the site was occupied between AD 1300 and the early 1500s. The Trail is a little over a half mile in length, and initially is located on a very steep and rugged terrain, but upon reaching the top, the trail is fairly level. Millstone Bluff is a very special and fragile site; unfortunately parts of the site have been severely vandalized. It was decided to invite curious and well intentioned visitors to learn about the site and its prehistoric inhabitants, which is a very effective way to protect the site from vandals and looters. The interpreted trail was opened to the public in 1991, and since then, there have been no new incidents of looting.