Stone Lined Graves – Jo Daviess County, Illinois

A very remarkable example of rectangular stone inclosure was discovered in a mound on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, in the town of Dunleith Jo Daviess County, Illinois. This is the extreme northwest corner of the State, and the mound was one of a large group. Its height was about 10 feet, with a diameter of 65 feet. To quote the description of the interior: ” The first six feet from the top consisted of hard gray earth. This covered a vault built in part of stone and in part of round logs. When fully uncovered this was found to be a rectangular crypt, inside measurement showing it to be thirteen feet long and seven feet wide. The four straight, surrounding walls were built of small unhewn stones to the height of three feet and a foot or more in thickness. Three feet from each end was a cross wall or partition of like character, thus leaving a central chamber seven feet square, and a narrow cell at each end about two feet wide and seven feet long, This had been entirely covered with a single laver of round logs, varying in diameter from six to twelve inches, laid close together side by side across the width of the vault, the ends resting upon and extending to uneven lengths beyond the side walls.” In the central space were 11 human skeletons, as indicated in the drawings, figure 8 showing a section of the mound and figure 9 a ground plan of the inclosure. “They had all apparently been interred at one time as they were found arranged in a circle in a sitting posture, with backs against the walls. In the center of the space around which they were grouped was a fine large shell, Busycon perversum, which had been converted into a drinking cup by removing the columella. Scattered around this were quite a number of pieces of broken pottery.

The end cells, walled off as heretofore stated, were nearly filled with a fine chocolate-colored dust, which, when first uncovered, gave out such a sickening odor that it was found necessary to suspend operations until the next day in order to give it time to escape. . . . The covering consisted of oak logs, nearly all of which had been peeled and some of the larger ones somewhat squared by slabbing off the sides before being put in place.” Similar inclosures were discovered in other mounds of the group. The true nature of the “fine chocolate-colored dust” was not determined. While the preceding was one of the most perfectly formed stone inclosures ever found east of the Mississippi and represents a certain high degree of skill of the people by whom it was constructed, another a short distance northward may be regarded as exemplifying the other extreme. This refers to a small mound, one of a group, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi about 1 mile above Lynxville, Crawford County, Wisconsin. It was 17 feet in diameter and 2½ feet in height. It covered a stone vault ” which, though only about three and one-half feet wide and of the form shown in the figure, extended from the top of the mound down a foot or more below the natural surface of the ground. This contained a single skeleton in a half-upright position. The head was southwest, the feet northeast. Near the right hip was a discoidal stone. There were no traces of coals or ashes in this mound.”The ground plan is indicated in figure 10.

The hollowing out of a central space in the original surface, thus forming a resting place for the body or bodies, later to be entirely covered by a mass of earth, appears to have been a well-developed custom of the people who reared the many mounds in southern Wisconsin and the adjoining country, but seldom do such works combine this feature with the stone inclosure as discovered in the small mound mentioned above. The inclosures described are good examples of this peculiar form of tomb, but they are not confined to the country east of the Mississippi, and many have been discovered extending across the State of Missouri, up the valley of the Missouri. It is one of the most distinctive forms of burial encountered in eastern United States, and likewise one of the most interesting. The numerous small burial mounds of Wisconsin do not reveal much of interest. They often occur in irregular groups, in some instances being associated with the effigies. Entire skeletons are found in some, but in others the burials are represented by a confused mass of bones.

The mounds are seldom more than 10 feet in height, often quite steep, and consequently of a relatively small diameter. Little can be added to the account prepared more than 60 years ago.

Bushnell, David I. Native Cemeteries and Forms of Burial East of the Mississippi. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Volume 71. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1920.

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