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Little Hills Expressway Site (23SC572)

Late Woodland pit featureThe Little Hills Expressway site was identified in 1980 during an archaeological survey of the proposed Little Hills Expressway funded by the City of St. Charles.  The site is located on a bluff crest overlooking the Missouri River valley near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.  The Little Hills Expressway was never built as planned, but several years later, MoDOT designed an interchange between Route 94 and the proposed I-370, which would impact the Little Hills Expressway site. Once it was determined that adverse impacts to the site could not be avoided, MoDOT contracted with the Archaeology Program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville to excavate the portion of the site that would be adversely affected by the proposed construction.

Large-scale excavation of the Little Hills Expressway site was conducted in the fall of 1989.  Extensive hand excavation revealed Middle Woodland and Late Woodland artifacts shallowly buried under more recent soil development.  Mechanical stripping of the site produced diagnostic artifacts from the Early Archaic, Late Archaic, Middle Woodland and Late Woodland periods and revealed 28 cultural features.  The features consist of two Middle Woodland “house basin middens,” a Late Woodland structure basin, and 25 pits.  All but two of the 25 pit features are assigned to the Late Woodland occupation based upon artifacts recovered from their fill.  The remaining two pits could not be assigned to a cultural component.

Attributes of the Middle Woodland ceramic assemblage suggest that the Little Hills Expressway site was occupied for a relatively brief time during the early portion of the Middle Woodland period ca. 150 B.C. to A.D. 50.  Year-round occupation of the site is indicated by the diversity of lithic tools and the spectrum of plant remains, including seeds of three cultivated crops (chenopod, maygrass, and erect knotweed). 

The Little Hills Expressway site was reoccupied during the Late Woodland period.  Attributes of the ceramic assemblage generally conform to expectations for the Late Woodland Period (A. D. 600-800), although two radiocarbon dates generated from carbon samples indicated a date range of A.D. 1020 to A.D. 1165 (1 Sigma calibrated results).  Each radiocarbon sample was collected from a pit within one of the two clusters of Late Woodland features at the site.  Cluster 1 contains a rectangular structure basin and a relatively diverse assortment of pit features.  Cluster 1 appears to represent a homestead occupied by a small household unit.  Cluster 2 is dominated by large storage pits that may have been used to cache foods and other items during seasons or periods when the site was vacated.  However, food remains recovered from features within both clusters suggest a multi-seasonal, if not year-round, occupation.  Besides possible functional differences of the two clusters, there is also some variability among certain ceramic attributes that may reflect slight temporal differences between the feature clusters.

Middle Woodland rim sherds         Late woodland rim sherds

The Little Hills site has yielded important data regarding the Middle Woodland and Late Woodland periods in east-central Missouri. The investigations have demonstrated the importance of relatively small sites that lack evidence of intensive long-term occupation in helping to interpret the area’s prehistory.  A technical report has been produced on the results of the investigation, Archaeology of the Little Hills Expressway Site (23SC572), St. Charles County, Missouri (1991). 



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