Four ways to explore Illinois’ early history

It’s hard to believe, but 11,000 years ago our state was overrun by giant, elephant-like, wooly mammals with 5-foot-long tusks. Closer to present day but still in the relatively distant past, Illinois was the site of an ancient Native American city, Cahokia, where a series of visible mounds and even a so-called “Woodhenge” (a circle of posts used to make astronomical sightings) have revealed a sophisticated yet mysterious society that was larger than London in 1250 AD.

Grab your young Indiana Jones and head off to discover the amazing early history of Illinois.

Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age, Field Museum

Travel back to the Ice Age and meet 40,000-year-old Lyuba, an intact baby mammoth. Your little explorers will get up close and personal with saber-toothed cats and giant bears, and see first hand some of the oldest human artifacts in existence. Hands-on, exciting interactive displays show how today’s scientists excavate, analyze and learn more about these giant creatures from the distant past.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Located on the Mississippi River flood plain, across from St. Louis, the Cahokia Mounds site was first inhabited by Indians of the Woodland culture in about 700 A.D. Though time, neglect and our famous blustery weather conditions have erased much of this once bustling city, Cahokia Mounds offers a world-class interpretive center. The museum’s exhibits, orientation video, guided tours, trails and the 100-foot-high Monks Mound, the largest earthwork in North America, will leave you with a good idea of what life looked like here long ago.

Family Archeology Day 2010, Kampsville

Archeology Day, set for 10 a.m.-4 p.m., June 26, allows young archeologists and their parents to explore the prehistory of the lower Illinois River valley region. Put on by the Center for American Archeology, the day offers a variety of archeology-related activities, including a flintknapping demonstration and artifact identification workshop, as well as tour a 2,000-year-old excavation site. Exhibits by area archeological and historical societies will be on display and a kids’ area will have hands-on activities. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.

The Perry Mastodon at Wheaton College

When my son was a toddler, one of his favorite things to do was to stop into this hidden corner of Wheaton College, push the large button and watch this 16-foot-long, 9-foot-tall American Mastodon revolve around its platform. The Perry Mastodon was discovered in Glen Ellyn in the 1960s. It’s a small exhibit, but kids will be fascinated with pushing the button and bringing this incredibly big Mastodon back to life.

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