Sunday, June 23, 2019

The History of a Prehistoric Stone Fort in Illinois' Shawnee National Forest.

About 1000 years ago, when Indian cultures were enjoying the area’s abundant resources (water, wildlife, nuts, berries, and roots) in the Shawnee National Forest, a stone fort was found. It is thought to have been built during the Late Woodland Period (1000 BC - 1000 AD), probably between 600 to 900 AD. 
A Shawnee National Forest Overlook.
These prehistoric forts were constructed on a raised mass of land known as a promontory (a point of high land that juts out into a large body of water), while some others were built on hilltops that provided an excellent overlook giving them a vantage point to see for miles across Illinois' premier forest.

The massive stone wall was at one time 285 feet long, six feet high, and nine feet thick on 1.4 acres of land. The appearance of a “stone fort” or stone wall located in Giant City State Park, which is part of the Shawnee National Forest, sits atop a sloped ridge
There are actually about ten of these old structures in the southern Illinois area, and they are believed to have been either a military fortification as a meeting place or a ceremonial temple.

Most of these sites were not habitation sites (villages) in the usual sense. There was only a modest amount of artifacts, which is common among places of sporadic use for short periods of time. Debris found on this site includes sherds of grit or grog tempered cord-marked pottery and stone tools, like projectile points. Many Late Woodland tribes lived in large, intensively occupied villages located near major rivers and streams such as Cahokia and East St. Louis. They had a mixed economy of hunting, gathering, and cultivated a series of native plants like, barley, sumpweed, maygrass, and squash.
For years archaeologists have wondered about the stone fort’s usage. Some say that these were “sacred spaces” reserved for periodic activity. Archaeological digs have located items that prove that the Indians of Southern Illinois were part of an extensive trading network. They believe the trading network followed the trails in Southern Illinois that became the early pioneer roads centuries later. Archaeologists suggest the possibility that stone forts were designated areas where different tribes or sub-tribes could meet, socialize, and trade on neutral ground.

The original wall was dismantled by European settlers, who used the stones in order to build their own structures; the stone base is all that remains of the original wall. It was reconstructed in 1934 by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) workforce gathered the scattered stone and rebuilt the wall in its original location, but has since fallen into ruins again.
The first professional archaeological investigation of the fort site was conducted in 1956 by archaeologists from Southern Illinois University. An explanation for the large hole in the front of the wall is unknown, although it most likely represents the work of treasure hunters. The hole was there when the site was officially recorded as an archaeological site in 1956.
In the fall of 2000, archaeologists from Southern Illinois University Carbondale conducted an investigation of the Stone Fort site. Of the 153 shovel tests executed south of the wall, all were positive for prehistoric artifacts. This led the scientists to nominate Giant City’s Stone Fort for the National Register of Historic Places. The Giant City Stone Fort Site was listed on National Register of Historic Places on August 9, 2002
The Stone Fort Trail in Giant City State Park is a little-known path that leads to some truly intriguing ruins. It is less than half a mile in length and is a loop trail.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. I went to SIU and spent plenty of time in beautiful Giant City State Park, but I never knew about the stone fort. Thanks for educating us about the little known trail. I am happy to hear it is recognized and studied again.

  2. Thanks. You make it so easy for the members to learn.

  3. This is a great article about a very little known historic site in our backyard! Thank you!! I look forward to doing more research and visiting soon!

  4. Have to make this a stop on one of our trips north.

  5. As a teenager I spent many summers in the Shawnee national forest at camp ondessonk. Beautiful place

  6. Another place to add to my bucket list. Thank you.


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