Orland Park received an unusual donation in April: a collection of Native American artifacts, including arrowheads and knives more than 1,000 years old, all found within the village.
Lester Marszalek, president of Greater Oak Lawn Diggers and an independent archaeology researcher who works with the Illinois Archaeology Survey of Cook County, donated the items from his collection after Mayor Dan McLaughlin spotted a few Orland Park artifacts in Marszalek's museum in Oak Lawn.
"This is a priceless donation," McLaughlin said at the April 21 Village Board meeting where Marszalek presented his collection. The artifacts will be displayed in Village Hall, he said.
Marszalek said he has found hundreds of artifacts in the decades he's been studying sites throughout Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, but he said the Orland Park area has several unusually rich sites.
In 1983, he found a broken Clovis point — a type of arrowhead made by some of North America's earliest inhabitants, he said — near the then-undeveloped 143rd Street Metra station. Though he later found the other half, the researchers he showed it to were thrilled: a broken artifact indicated it had been made at that very spot, he said.
"It's amazing what we have here; it's an archaeological gold mine," he said. Among the artifacts he gave Orland Park were a 5-inch flint knife and an Evans point, a double-notched arrowhead, he found at 159th Street and La Grange Road.
Marszalek said he enjoys donating artifacts to villages rather than turning them over to the Illinois State Museum in Springfield because it makes it easier for people to learn about their local history. Though he's proud of the sites and artifacts he's uncovered, Marszalek said it's not hard to give them up.
"They were never taken, they were dropped by a Native American 1,000 years ago, and I'm sure they would be happy the pieces are being put back in the community," he said.
Marszalek's finds seem to have sparked an interest in the village's earliest years. Rochelle Lurie, president and principal investigator at Midwest Archaeological Research Services Inc., will teach a free seminar on "Archaeology in Your Backyard," Orland Park officials recently announced.
The event will focus on the work archaeologists do as well as local history, going back to the Early Archaic Period that began about 10,000 years ago, said Lurie, who has been conducting research in the Chicago area for more than 30 years.
"Most people think of Egypt, not Orland Park, when they think about archaeology, but there really is a lot here," Lurie said.
There were 103 sites in Orland Park and, though many have been covered by development, about 30 still remain and need to be studied, she said.
"Archaeological sites are always at risk unless we know where they are, how important they are, and then we can by law protect them," she said.
Most of the archaeology in the Chicago area is done not by research universities but companies like Midwest Archaeological Research Services, Lurie said. They often help developers comply with preservation laws that require they study the land and save historic resources before disturbing the landscape, Lurie said.
But while archaeologists have identified many sites in the Chicago area, relatively few have been systematically excavated since there are too many sites for archaeologists to keep up with, she said.
That's where the nonprofessionals, like Marszalek, can help, she said.
"They're how we know about many of the sites that have been found," Lurie said. "If they let us know something is important, it can be a collaborative effort where we exchange information."
Marszalek, too, urged amateurs who discover artifacts to share their findings, particularly where they were found, with professional researchers.
"It's not a renewable resource," he said. "Once it's lost, it's lost forever."
Lurie said she's working on organizing a week-long training session that would give interested Orland Park residents the skills they'd need to begin exploring area sites.
"It's very rare for a community to do something like this without legal reasons to do it, just to preserve the heritage of that particular area," Lurie said. "So many sites have already been destroyed, but this is an example of a community that is interested in preserving what is left of the prehistoric and historic sites that they have."
Anyone interested in attending Lurie's seminar on May 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 S. Ravinia Ave., is encouraged to reserve a spot by calling 708-403-6399 or emailing email@example.com.
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