Millstone Bluff – Shawnee National Forest

At the end of our November Shawnee National Forest Meetup (Day1, Day2), we visited a fascinating Archeological site, Millstone Bluff. Our June River to River plans included visiting Millstone Bluff because of the petroglyphs there, but it was far off trail and we had other plans that day to see Trigg Tower and the bleeding buffalo pictograph. Archeology views human culture through the artifacts left behind, and this site includes 3 human civilizations, all within the Common Era (all within the last 1200 years) impacting the land. We were privileged to share it with our Meetup friend John, who studied and worked on Illinois Archeological digs, when he was younger.

From its recent past, this place is named after a stone quarry at the base of the bluff, used for making round millstones by European settlers back in the 1800’s.

This surface-level quarry edges the parking lot as you drive in, and was abandoned, long before archeologists found the rich history on top of the bluff, just 20 years ago.

Six centuries earlier (in the 1200’s) a Mississippian settlement sat atop the bluff. Mississippians formed a large complex hierarchical culture covering most of our lower 48; a northeastern counterpart to the Mayan culture thriving further south. 

We saw rectangular indentations where homes and larger community buildings stood, a cemetery where graves were built as stone boxes.


There was also a collection of sacred petroglyphs, including an impressive thunderbird. As we looked over this small community we imagined what a lovely place it would have been to live, with grand views looking out over the nearby landscape.

Before that, maybe the 800’s, a tribe of Late Woodland people built up stone walls along the upper edge of this bluff, fortifying this dependable location, like a natural castle, against other tribes that may have passed by. Though Mississippians may not have had use for the walls themselves, they left them in place as artifacts for us to find now, in modern day.

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This entry was posted in Camping, Master naturalist and tagged , by Thom. Bookmark the permalink.

About Thom

I’ve always been enthralled by nature, having grown up in the tall timbers of Brenwood Estates. Jana and I met as teens, were both attracted to nature, and now that we’re reaching the end of our Army-babies, college-work, house-too-small-for-three-teens years, it’s time for our second adulthood … and a return to our roots.

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