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updated: 6/15/2014 7:38 AM

Archaeologists find artifacts at Illinois airport

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Associated Press

MURPHYSBORO -- Archaeologists have uncovered 1,000-year-old Native American artifacts on the grounds of a southern Illinois airport just ahead of scheduled construction projects to extend runways and relocate a nearby road begin.

Crews with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey discovered five house plots from the Mississippian Era at the Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro. The archaeological excavation was required before construction could begin and to determine where future roads in the area could be placed, the Southern Illinoisan reported (http://bit.ly/1ndcEoU ) on Friday. The discoveries weren't completely unexpected, but the dig unearthed more than some expected.

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"This ended up being much denser than we anticipated," said Gary Shafer, the airport's manager. "However, it is fascinating to look at things from the history of the area."

Workers also uncovered a stone ax that is thousands of years older than the plots. It would have been used to cut trees and wood, said Patrick Durst, the statewide survey coordinator with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. He said the plots could have belonged to a Native American community

"We are going to excavate those houses, collect all the data, so when we piece this back together later, we can create a clear picture of what was happening here," Durst said.

He identified about 40 areas to dig on the airport property, leading to the many discoveries. Archaeologists say they'll continue working at the area for a few more weeks to search for more artifacts.

"If we didn't do the excavations and the site was just dug and plowed over, we would never know the origins of some of the artifacts found," said Brad Koldehoff, chief archaeologist with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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