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Oak Forest Site
Location in Oak Forest near Chicago, Illinois
Area 20 acres

The Oak Forest Site (11Ck-53) is located in Oak Forest, Cook County, Illinois, near the city of Chicago. It is classified as a late Prehistoric to Protohistoric/Early Historic site with Upper Mississippian Huber affiliation.

History of Archaeological Investigations

In 1958 archaeological remains were noted during construction of a new road by the Oak Forest Hospital. Excavations were carried out in 1958 as a salvage project under the auspices of the Illinois Archaeological Survey.

In 1978, during construction of two new buildings by the Illinois Department of Transportation more archaeological material was noted. A team from Northwestern University conducted a salvage excavation in 1979.

Chronology of Oak Forest pottery within the Huber sequence

The trends in certain pottery traits are very time-sensitive and can be used as indicators of relative age. Based on information on other Huber sites in the area, archaeologists have determined early Huber pottery is more likely to have cordmarked surface finish; wide-trailed decoration; and notched lips. Early Huber sites have also been observed to have significant amounts of Fisher Ware as well. Late Huber pottery has predominately plain surface finish; fine-line incised decoration; and unnotched lips. A minority also have punctate decoration, mostly in combination with the trailed lines.

In the Oak Forest site assemblage, only 2.5% of sherds are cordmarked, Wide-line decoration is reported to be rare. Also, about half of the lips are unnotched. There is also no Fisher Ware at all in the Oak Forest assemblage; but Danner Ware is present, which has been found in early Historic contexts at the Zimmerman site in northwestern Illinois. This combination of traits indicates a relatively later time placement for Oak Forest within the Huber sequence. This is supported by 6 radiocarbon dates which indicate the occupation of Oak Forest took place between a range of A.D. 1425-1625.

Huber within the Upper Mississippian Culture

Huber ware (and Huber culture) are often mentioned together with Fisher. Both Fisher and Huber are Upper Mississippian cultures which existed in the southern Lake Michigan region in the states of northern Illinois and Indiana and southwest Michigan. Both have shell-tempered pottery but Huber is predominantly plain surface with fine-line decoration and Fisher is predominantly cordmarked surface with wide-line decoration.

The relationship of Huber and Fisher both with each other and with other Upper Mississippian cultures in the area has long been a matter of debate and speculation among archaeologists. James Griffin, upon examining the artifacts from the original 1929 excavations, felt that Huber was a Component of the Oneota Aspect based on the form and design of the pottery, close to the Orr and Lake Winnebago foci, and that Fisher was part of a separate Focus. Since that date, we’ve obtained a great deal more information and now we know that Fisher is the older of the two and Huber is the one that survived to the Historic period. Nevertheless, both Fisher and Huber coexist at the same sites seemingly at the same time. Hoxie Farm, Griesmer and Moccasin Bluff are examples of this.

Most archaeologists now believe that both Fisher and Huber are taxonomically-related phases within the Oneota tradition. The relationship between the two is time-related in that Huber is derived from Fisher; but there are also late Fisher sites like Fifield, where Fisher pottery is associated with late Prehistoric artifacts, so it is possible that Fisher also survived until the Protohistoric or early Historic period.

Significance

There is direct evidence of cultivated plants at Oak Forest. The remains of maize were found along with squash and the common bean. Sunflower and wild rice were also recovered. Also, the recovery of knotweed, little barley and goosefoot indicates the Huber culture participated in the Eastern Agricultural Complex. Deer bone was also present in abundance, along with arrowheads for bows-and-arrows, indicating the site residents still relied on hunting; and fish and turtle were also present in the animal bone remains, so they were also exploiting food resources of the nearby marshes and creeks.

With regards to seasonality of occupation, based on the presence of several house structures, and supported by an analysis of the animal bone and plant remains, the researchers determined the site functioned as a permanent to semi-permanent agricultural village.

Along with the Palos site, Oak Forest had some European-made trade articles included in the assemblage. This indicates the Huber culture lasted until European contact and therefore was one of the Historic Native American tribes encountered by the early explorers and fur traders. It has not been conclusively demonstrated which tribe exactly made the Huber pottery. However, the Potawatomi, Illinois and Miami have been recorded as present in the lower shores of Lake Michigan in the early historic period, and all have been suggested as the tribe corresponding to the Huber culture.

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