Pre-History

The land that is today called Livingston County sits on the moving continental plates of the Earth. In fact, it was south of the equator twice! It was during these times that it was covered with tropical forests which over the millennia formed coal deposits. The Mazon Creek fossils found here are world famous. Some of them are found nowhere else in the world. Some ancient life represented are ferns, insects, shrimp, jellyfish and fish scales - fossilized in rock 200-300 million years before the dawn of the dinosaurs. 

Plate Tectonics Diagrams

Plate tectonics diagram
Over 260 million years ago a shallow ocean covered the area, forming layers of limestone from the calcium carbonate (limestone) shells of abundant snails, clams and other sea life. Fossils of trilobites, mollusks, sponges, corals and crinoids can easily be found in the local laminar limestone deposits. Shark teeth and starfish have also been discovered here. An amateur paleontologist from Eyler, just east of Pontiac, found two new fossil crinoid species in Wagner Quarry south of Pontiac. Her husband, also a crinoid expert, named one of the new species pontiacensis, and the other christinae, after his wife. 

American Bison

American Bison
Through the Ice Age, there was a mile high block of ice atop the landscape. When it melted, Lake Ancona formed with a clean sand bottom. It eventually drained and Lake Pontiac was formed. As the climate became drier, Ice Age megafauna moved in. Local finds of a tusk and tooth from a wooly mammoth are on display here today, along with a 50 pound copper nugget transplanted by the ice from the Mesabi Range iron ore area of northern Minnesota. Buffalo (American Bison) covered the area during the Pleistocene Era (1 million to 10,000 years ago), and again 500 to 300 years ago, only to finally disappear in the early 1800s.
Bison bones were found here in 2011 along the banks of the Vermilion in the area. They were only the third discovery of bison bones east of the Mississippi River from the Holocene Era, (10,000 to 500 years ago), indicating only sparse, intermittent perhaps, distribution of the bison in this area then. The other two Holocene discoveries were near Ottawa in a silica quarry, and Mapleton (downstream of Peoria) where the mouth of a tributary stream emptied bison carcasses into the Illinois River.

Eleven to twelve thousand years ago the first humans arrived. Only seven of their early spear points have been found which they lost hunting these large game mammals. The Archaic Period peoples (9,000-4,000 years ago) were wandering hunter groups, following game. Living in small groups, they roamed in search of food, camping several days to several weeks, and then moving on. They produced “points” commonly found along creeks and out on the prairie. These artifacts we see today were made from flint and chert; a form of metamorphosed limestone, deposits of which are rare in this area. This material was a highly traded-for item here. Some of their weapons and tools also include copper spear points - the Old Copper Culture. A 6-inch copper point was found in Sunbury Township. The Archaic peoples found rare copper nuggets dropped here by retreating glaciers to hammer out into tools/weapons. One of the most unique tools from this period we find today are called “banner stones”. These pieces of stone were of varied shapes with a longitudinal hole drilled in the center. They were slid onto a throwing stick, called an at-lat’l. This extra weight and the extended leverage of the throwing stick enabled a hunter to throw a spear at a much higher speed, thus improving the chance of bringing down quarry.
The Woodland Period (4000-1400 years ago) saw more advanced cultures of settled groups in villages with gardens of sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, and beans to supplement hunting for game. Trade routes to Florida, Michigan, North Dakota and other far flung states were established for obtaining scarce items such as suitable stone for tools/weapons, copper for axes, and mica from Carolina for mixing with clay for stronger pottery. Workable stone from neighboring states like Indiana, obsidian (lava glass) from Wyoming, and copper from Minnesota/Wisconsin are evidence of that trading found here. Three thousand years ago pottery first appeared in North America. That crude early pottery is found here. Other finds include bear teeth and elk antler - both species having disappeared from the area landscape long ago.

Native American drinking vessels found near Cahokia, IL

Drinking Vessels
John McGregor, a Pontiac native who became the Director of the Illinois State Museum, found a blade here that he determined was made by the same person who made the Mackinaw Cache blades found in Tazewell County, a group of blades widely recognized as the finest examples of “chipped” stone ever found in North America. He was involved in many of the early archaeological efforts in the state. He directed the Washburn, IL, excavation of a mass burial near a creek that contained four pits with approximately 200 individuals each! 

The Mississippian Period - 1400 to 600 years ago - saw an even higher level of culture develop in North America. Instead of isolated sustenance gardeners/gatherers, CORN was more widely introduced, planted in larger tracts, and still remains today as the dominant driver of our county’s culture and economy. Two flint hoes 11 inches long were found at two different locations along Rooks Creek as well as a cache of 26 hoes south of Pontiac. Simpler hoes from this time are found throughout the area. Use of these hoes marked the beginning of agriculture as we know it here today. The Mississippian people began using corn as their main community resource, rather than just another private family garden staple. Cahokia points are found here named after the Cahokia Mound complex near East St. Louis, which contains the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the Americas; Monk’s Mound. Larger at its base than Egypt’s Great Pyramid, Monk‘s Mound was the home of the King/God of what was at the time the largest city in the Americas. A copper falcon headdress piece was found at the mouth of the Vermilion River at nearby Ottawa. Area peoples used the river as their highway for trade and cultural exchanges. A smoking pipe in the shape of a fish head and one of a bird’s head are examples of other artifacts from this period - found at opposite ends of the County. 

Ancient arrowhead found in local area

Ancient Arrowhead
Nearly all the information we have of the prehistoric native human inhabitants of the area comes from discoveries of what they left behind; burials, tools/weapons, buried campsites and villages, and earthen works like Monk’s Mound in Cahokia. Burial mounds were common in the area; some were located off Billet Road just east of Pontiac on the river; the former site of the American Legion Billet building. The building is now a private home whose original fireplace still contains axes and other artifacts from the area.
The mounds are gone now, as are most others that were located in the County. In the early twentieth century, a banker named Payne from Springfield excavated the Billet Road mounds and stripped them of all their manmade items and the story they could have told. A mound north of Fairbury along the river was excavated while digging a basement for a house. It contained one individual and burial goods.

Unlike their counterparts who went on south to settle Central and South America, North American natives produced no written language. Other than petroglyphs, or picture art, that depicted events, surreal imagery and early art, no translatable written record was left us. Names of individuals, their tribal names, battles, migrations, food issues, weather; none of this direct information is known. Not until the onset of European migration westward from the east coast did any historical records begin appearing to gain insight into the first 12,000 years of human history in Livingston County. 

Over 600 generations of Native Americans have called the (Livingston County) area home since the last glacier melted 12,000 years ago. Families of European descent have lived here 10 generations or less.