Millstone Bluff in the Shawnee National Forest

Millstone Bluff in the Shawnee National Forest

Experience prehistoric Illinois on your hike at Millstone Bluff. This unique peak into a prehistoric Native American community offers more variety than any other archaeological dig in Southern Illinois. This Mississippian dwelling area was inhabited between 1492, when Columbus “discovered” the New World, and 1540, the year Hernando De Soto began his trek through the Southeastern United States.

Ancient Rock Carvings in Illinois

From the parking lot, view the spectacular bluffs that jut out from the surrounding flat terrain. Hike in at the trailhead and follow the ¾ mile wood chipped path to the top of the bluffs. The incline is mild but continues gradually until it reaches the top of the 320 foot bluff; benches are available for resting and soaking in the natural woodland splendor of the surrounding area.

Upon reaching the top, follow the trail straight to see unique petroglyphs etched into the rock by the Mississippians almost 500 years ago including bird and spider images or follow the circular trail to the left to see what remains of this ancient settlement. Please, stay on the trail to preserve these unique insights into Native American history.

The Mississippi Tribe

The Mississippians built semi subterranean dwellings. The walls were woven with branches forming a basket-like enclosure then packed with clay for protection from heat and cold. The dwellings often caught fire leaving solid clay remnants that were useful for analyzing the Mississippians’ building practices.

In warm weather, this Native American tribe primarily cooked outside, but in poor weather conditions, prepared food indoors on a clay hearth. These dwellings were typically used for around twenty years and then were destroyed and filled with remnants disposed by the culture. Some of the artifacts found within the abandoned dwelling areas include Mississippian arrow points, stone knives, celts (small polished axes), and chert used for re-sharpening stone hoes.

The presence of gardening tools suggest that the Mississippians that inhabited the area were farmers who most likely tended crops in the floodplain of Bay Creek. For more information on the archaeological significance of the Millstone Bluffs area, visit the USDA’s report on the archaeological findings at Millstone Bluff.

Southern Illinois University Archaeological Study

During the summers of 1996, 1997, and 1999, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Anthropological Methods Field Study conducted various investigations into what remains of this undisturbed prehistoric Mississippian village. Members of these teams pinpointed the sights of daily Mississippian activities including housing remnants, a stone-box cemetery, and a late woodland stone fort. Then, they assessed Native American construction methods used in this particular village.

Directions to Millstone Bluff

To connect with prehistoric Southern Illinois, take IL-145 to IL-147. In 1.4 miles look for the signage on the right for Millstone Bluffs. Continue for 0.3 miles to the parking lot and begin your hike into history!
Millstone Bluff Archaeological Map

Kayaking at Millstone Lake

A hidden lake, down a gravel road, leads to beauty and adventure!  Just ¾ of a mile east from the Millstone Bluff Archeological Area, turn north onto Millstone Lake Road.  While there are private property signs marked along the road, these are for the properties located on each side.  Follow the rough, but public road back for 2 miles and you will be delightfully surprised by a 118-acre lake nown for peaceful kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and the occasional swimmer! If you want to fall in love with nature, explore the emergency spillway which weathers rapidly in the spring rains.  Because of the washouts, fossil hunting is also a great pastime while exploring!

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