Archaeologist says confusion may have led to accusations of burial mounds desecration

COAL VALLEY, Illinois-- On Sept. 5, two local groups accused a Coal Valley developer of potentially desecrating a Native American burial mound.

"Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Gochee are well aware that there are Native American burial mounds and have chosen to disregard this fact and continue to pursue their endeavors to put a road right through one of the mounds," Regina Tsosie said during the press conference.

Tsosie is the president of the Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities (NACQC).

But the landowner, Clint Zimmerman, said he had an independent archaeological survey done by Prairie Archaeology and Research that found no records of a burial mound on his property.

The NACQC, along with the Sage Sisters, said it had a map from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources saying otherwise.

Now, a state certified archaeologist said some confusion may have led to this disagreement.

“It’s not on the property but it’s very close to it," Karen Atwell said. “The confusion lies in what was originally owned by Zimmerman.”

Atwell said when she first looked at the map from the DNR, she thought the mound was on Zimmerman's property because she thought his property line ran south along Glenwood Road from its intersection with US Highway 6.

But Henry County records show Zimmerman sold the land a few years ago where the burial mound is recorded.

“So at the present time from the property lines, that mound group is not within the 91.7 acres," Atwell said.

Prairie Archaeology and Research (PAR) found the same thing during its independent survey for Zimmerman. Joe Craig, president of PAR, told News 8 he found a record of a burial mound located between Zimmerman's property and Glenwood Road.

Tsosie said in a phone interview Thursday night that people won't know for sure whether the burial mound is on Zimmerman's property until an archaeological survey is done. Zimmerman would have to initiate a study.

Tsosie said a new survey is necessary to make sure the information on the prehistoric sites are complete and up-to-date because the information is so old.

While the burial mound doesn't appear to be on Zimmerman's property, Atwell said the map from a 1961 survey does show prehistoric sites on it.

“But none of them presently have any human remains that we know of on them," she said. "The fact that the sites on the property are habitation or campsites does not negate their importance for cultural resources because we have not had any new information from those sites since the mid-1970s.”

There could also be unregistered burial mounds on the property, but Illinois law requires developers who discover human remains to report them to the coroner. It is illegal to knowingly disturb human remains in Illinois.

As for the burial mound, Atwell said she would like to see it located and recorded. She said since the 1961 survey, erosion could have moved the mound and any human remains away from where it was originally located.

“I would expect something still exists for that mound. The question is finding it," she said.

Note: Atwell used a map provided by Davenport amateur archaeologist Ferrel Anderson to show WQAD News 8 where the burial mound was last surveyed. Anderson worked on archaeological surveys in the area in the early 1960s. Atwell did this instead of showing the DNR map on camera because she said those maps and “the data in them is considered classified.” This is to protect prehistoric burial sites from graverobbers.