Dickson Mounds Museum is 75 years old. In 1927, chiropractor Don Dickson began to dig in the ancient burial mounds on his family farm. Instead of removing the bones from the graves he excavated, he removed only the dirt, leaving the bones and associated objects in place. He first covered his excavation with a tent. Later he replaced the tent with a building that he opened as a private museum. His work received national and even international attention, and that first year attracted 40,000 visitors to view the site.


Dickson Excavation

Middle Woodland Pottery Vessel
Early Dickson Mounds Parking Lot
First Museum Building
In the years of the Depression and World War II, attendance dropped, (to only 8,000 in 1940). Following the War, Dickson sold the site to the State of Illinois, which has operated the Museum since 1945. Don Dickson and members of his family, employed by the Illinois Department of Conservation, managed the museum for the first 20 of those years.
Second Museum Building
Present Museum Building
In 1965 the site was transferred to the Illinois State Museum, and in 1972 the present building opened to the public.
In the 1960s, American Indians in the United States were gaining a voice nationally. Many states passed legislation in the years following, restricting or prohibiting excavation of Indian burials. In the 1970s and '80s most museums removed Indian remains from display and many national organizations and institutions adopted policies prohibiting the display of remains. In the late 1980s, the Federal Government passed legislation requiring return of some burial remains by museums to Indian groups.
Indian Protest
It was in this changing social climate, in 1990-91, that a controversy arose over Dickson Mounds Museum's efforts to close its ancient cemetery to public view. While most Native Americans supported the closure, many other people opposed it. Protesters and police officers began to replace visitors at the site. The controversy was resolved through negotiations by the state in November, 1991. The burial closed to the public on April 3, 1992. The museum closed for major renovation of the facility and installation of new exhibits in September of 1993 and reopened in September of 1994. "The New Dickson Mounds" has been greeted enthusiastically by visitors and critics alike.
Indian Protest
Mississippian Engraved Marine Shell Spider Gorgets