Vol. XX No. 1 - SPRING 2009

On January 24th at 10 a.m., the Edgewater Historical Society hosted Scott, J. Demel, PhD, who spoke on “Chicago and Lakefront Archaeology.” Demel works at The Field Museum as Great Lakes Archaeologist, Prehistoric and Early Historic.

Demel presented an informative talk about the western shore of Lake Michigan going back to the Late Pliocene Age. His talk informed the audience of 50 who came to the Edgewater Library to learn more about the history of our lakeshore. Among some of the facts we learned:

  • In the present era the lake levels fluctuate in a 30 year cycle;
  • Many rivers run parallel to the shore line and do not empty into the lake;
  • The area has many wetlands called “skokies”;
  • The surface of the lake is currently about 580 feet above sea level;
  • At one time the shore of the lake was 15 miles to the east after a major glacier blocking the St. Lawrence Seaway melted and the lakes drained into the Atlantic Ocean;
  • Under the current lake there is the remains of a forest from the time period when the lake was low;
  • The only Chert deposit along the shoreline is an outcrop of rock at the Racine point;

Demel also introduced the audience to photos of artifacts from the Field Museum collections and from his local investigations. Most of the photos were of tools that were used for hunting as well as farming. Among the local sites Demel has worked on are Niles, the intersection of Pratt and Ridge in Chicago, Chinatown in Chicago, Lake Forest, and Camp Douglas in Chicago. The chert tools from these sites have been studied and even analyzed with lasers to create a more complete picture of their use.

While investigating and digging, Demel also found evidence of the original plant life in the area. These have been charted to show the changes over thousands of years. All of this helps to give us a picture of what the earliest inhabitants of the western shore of Lake Michigan used in their forest dwelling life style.

The audience was enthusiastic and stayed after the presentation for a discussion of how they could get involved.

Bob Remer presented the possibility of creating an Edgewater dig. Kathy Gemperle reported that the area of Senn Park is the one place in Edgewater where there has been no building. One other place of note is the front yard of an old home in Andersonville. Demel promised to keep us posted on how to go about setting up a dig.

Thanks to Alan Stryczek for help on this report.