The Morton Village Archaeological Project with Dr. Jodie O’Gorman

Dr. O'Gorman holding an artifact

Associate Professor, and previous longtime Chair of the Department, Jodie O’Gorman has co-directed the Morton Village Archaeological Project for the past twelve years. Dr. O’Gorman’s research focuses on post-migration cultural interactions and the question of violence and cooperation in the pre-Columbian mid-continent of North America. Dr. O’Gorman became interested in late prehistoric villages of the upper Midwest region in 1987, when she worked on a large longhouse community identified as “Oneota” by archaeologists. Her dissertation focused on gender, domestic economics and social complexities as seen through the longhouses and associated burials at that site. Her interest in Oneota and curiosity about the settlement of one such group at a site in the Illinois River Valley, in an area already rife with conflict and occupied by a Mississippian group—a group Oneota avoided in other areas—led her to the current project. Dr. O’Gorman’s inquiry links to broader questions regarding post-migration adaptations, violence, and social negotiation.

To better understand community life in the late pre-Columbian Central Illinois River Valley, Dr. O’Gorman helped initiate the Morton Village Archaeological Project in 2008 with co-director Dr. Michael Conner of the Dickson Mounds Museum, Illinois State Museum System. This project investigates the social context of the Norris Farms #36 cemetery, which is one of the most well-documented cases of violence and low-level, intermittent warfare among Native American groups. At least a third of the men and women interred within the cemetery suffered violent deaths, and children were not immune from such fates. Additionally, symbolism from the Mississippian group was incorporated into the Oneota mortuary practices. This cemetery, therefore, raised many questions about life in the associated habitation site of Morton Village.

Through excavations at Morton Village, Dr. O’Gorman and her research team have been piecing together an interpretation that reveals cultural negotiation and resiliency. Dr. O’Gorman hopes her work will contribute to discussions within archaeology on cultural interactions, multi-cultural society, and migration in the North American mid-continent before European incursion. She also hopes future research on violence and warfare will include more holistic considerations of the roles of women and children, as well as adult males, in our interpretations of the past.

Dr. O’Gorman is proud of the impact her research project has had on students. With the help of graduate students, Dr. O’Gorman and Dr. Conner have co-directed seven undergraduate field schools at the site and several summers of field work. Many graduate students have conducted doctoral research with material from the project and numerous undergraduates continued to work in the lab after their field schools, several pursuing formal research projects.

Dr. O’Gorman and her research team have presented nearly 50 papers or posters at regional and national conferences and public venues. Public outreach activities with the Dickson Mounds Museum and the Illinois Nature Conservancy have been a central component throughout the project. Recently, Dr. O’Gorman helped the Nature Conservancy at Emiquon develop a virtual tour of the site and has been invited to speak at their upcoming symposium. Dr. O’Gorman has also co-authored many articles in journals such as World Archaeology and the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

Currently, Dr. O’Gorman is working with Dr. Conner on examining the development of multicultural societies and the consequences of migration based on their findings at Morton Village. Their next project will be a detailed site report from a decade of fieldwork. After this, Dr. O’Gorman looks forward to a book project that will examine various aspects of the Oneota tradition and linkages to contemporary Native American Tribes.

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05.26.21