Office of the Illinois State Archaeologist

Dr. Thomas E. Emerson
Dr. Thomas Emerson

ISAS Director
Illinois State Archaeologist

The establishment of the Illinois State Archaeologist under Public Act 098-0346 effectively created, for the first time, a state-level position to advocate for the public importance of the archaeological record in Illinois. The State Archaeologist serves as the authoritative spokesperson on matters of archaeological fact and policy for ISAS, PRI, and the State of Illinois. Additionally, it is the responsibility of this office to provide current information on the results of archaeological-related research and scientific inquiries to the public at large, communities, scientists, industry, and government agencies. The duties of the State Archaeologist have been gathered together under the umbrella of the Office of the Illinois State Archaeologist (OISA). These responsibilities fall under the rubric of Preservation, Data Collection and Management, Education, and Research.

Preservation:  OISA works with municipalities—park districts, government agencies, private non-profit organizations, developers and the business community, land trusts and local historical organizations—to help identify and evaluate archaeological sites and cultural landscapes under their charge and to provide them with technical assistance in planning for theses resources’ long-term management and preservation. Recent efforts have assisted local groups in preserving significant mound groups in northwestern Illinois.

Data collection and management:  A major responsibility of the state scientific survey is to serve as a repository of knowledge of Illinois’ rich resources and to serve as a clearinghouse to disseminate that information to other agencies of state government, professional archaeologists, educators, developers, and others. OISA retains and manages numerous databases including information on site records, inventories of protected burial sites, and nearly 20,000 archaeological reports, as well as a comprehensive records and photographic archive and database (with both paper and electronic/internet components). OISA also serves as a major repository for State of Illinois collections from over 5,000 sites containing over 3,000,000 archaeological artifacts, and is responsible for their continued conservation and curation for future generations.

Education: OISA participates in and conducts programs such as the Prairie Research Institute Naturally Illinois Expo, avocational education and outreach, in-school programs, artifact identification sessions, museum exhibits, and public and professional lectures. Our professional educational efforts also reach out to municipalities, park districts, and other governmental agencies to keep them abreast of legislative changes and programs, regulatory information, and cultural resources best practices approaches.

Research:  OISA engages in research activities, including sponsoring, directing, and conducting research into the archaeology of the state. These activities are generally managed under the umbrella of ISAS’ Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials program. Research activities are diverse ranging from archaeological excavations at a newly discovered War of 1812 fort and an eighteenth century French fort, the search for Illinois’ earliest African-American settlement, stable isotope research on prehistoric diet and migration, and early maize domestication. Research is also conducted targeting issues that have direct economic impacts on Illinois’ citizens such modeling archaeological site locations, locating burial sites, and preservation. A major emphasis of OISA is encouraging “Smart Development” that allows preservationists and developers to cooperate in achieving their goals.