Jefferson County Historical Society
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Evidence Prehistoric Man
Roamed Missouri Found at Festus

Tangible evidence prehistoric man roamed and hunted in Missouri woodlands and sought housing in caves and shelters formed by overhanging cliffs has been uncovered in a cave-like cliff shelter near Festus, Jefferson County, by a survey party headed by Robert McCormick Adams, superintendent of a WPA project sponsored by the Academy of Science of St. Louis.

The survey also has uncovered the remains of a Missouri village of about 500 years ago, at least part of which was destroyed by fire, an unfortunate occurrence for the inhabitants but a fortunate one for archaeology because the fire preserved the evidence, Adams declared. The village was situated on what is now a farm in Jefferson County, several miles from the cliff shelter.

Adams said the important evidence unearthed in the shelter indicates the presence of man in Missouri “possibly” several thousand years ago. The evidence, consisting of coarse spear and arrow heads, flint knives and fireplaces, is not as important as the conditions under which it was found, the archaeologist explained, asserting in his business it is not so much what is found, but where.

The important part of the find is the fact the ancient implements of that cultural age were taken from earth, likely undisturbed by geological change since huge boulders fell upon it, apparently from the overhanging cliff. The boulders are still there, Adams said, and from all indications have been there for centuries, as a study of formations does not indicate the fall occurred in “recent” centuries.

One of the significant elements in the find is that these prehistoric cliff dwellers did not use pottery and, as far as the evidence indicated, did not bring their meals home with them to eat, Adams continued, as neither broken pieces of pottery nor bones of animals were found in this particular formation.

However, this was not the case in other evidence found in different formations in the shelter, which consisted of various flint implements, pottery, bones of elk, bison and members of the cat family, and in addition bullets and buttons used by the white man, all tending to show the shelter was used as such for a long period of archaeological and geologic time, from the prehistoric savage to the civilized early settler.

The pieces of pottery, found in the cave would indicate to the uninformed layman merely that the various inhabitants made and used pottery, but to Adams it tells a more complete story, indicating at least two peoples of different culture occupied the open-air house after the older inhabitants had passed on. Pieces of pottery with grit to form its body indicate man of the “woodland” culture found refuge there and pieces with fine parts of shell for the body, that those of the “Mississippi” culture also sought the cliff as a resting place.

The excavations on the farm disclosed the remains of three prehistoric houses, with sufficient evidence to enable the surveyors to reconstruct them on paper, while 35 refuse pits – showing clean habits on the part of the natives – tend to prove the village was of considerable size.

The houses were made of small poles stuck side by side in the ground and were covered with thatched roofs, woven from small branches or saplings and intertwined with grass. One of the houses apparently caught fire while a meal was being prepared, for a quantity of charred corn was found in a pot made of pottery.

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