BLOOMINGTON, Ill. | Mystery still surrounds three boxes of arrowheads and other projectile points uncovered several years ago in the basement of a building at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
But thanks to the diligent detective work of an aspiring museum curator, they are no longer just a box of rocks.
IWU senior Kate Scott was a sophomore when she answered the call of university archivist Meg Miner, who was looking for someone to dig into the mystery.
"I had no idea what the magnitude of this project would be when I started," said Scott, who will graduate in May with a degree in anthropology.
The seed that was planted then blossomed into a full-scale senior honors project that brought her into contact with projectile point experts at Illinois State University, Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewiston and the Cahokia State Historic Site near St. Louis, where Scott grew up.
None of them knew much about Scott's unburied treasure either.
Contained in the three boxes found in Holmes Hall, the university administration building, were more than 1,000 points of rock.
Some were in boxes within the boxes. Others were in envelopes. Many were wrapped together in pages of an old newspaper — a 1975 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, to be exact. The projectile points came in various shapes and sizes, with no indication of what they were, where they came from, who collected them or why IWU had them.
In researching the possible origin, Scott found articles in The Pantagraph and the Argus, IWU's student newspaper, and a notation in the yearbook that mentioned donation of "the Krupp collection" in 1965. It was reported to contain more than 8,000 projectile points.
"We have an educated guess" that points to the Krupp collection, said Scott, but no proof and no indication of what happened to the rest of the collection — yet another mystery.
Scott sorted the artifacts by stem type and point type, assigning a number to each point — 1,129 of them.
The majority are dart points, she said. Other categories are spear, knife, drill and arrow.
They are believed to come from the middle to late archaic period, 3,000 to 6,000 years ago, or the early to middle woodland period, 1,200 to 3,000 years ago, she said.
It's difficult to narrow the time period without knowing where the items were collected because different shapes were used at different times in different parts of the country, explained Michael Wiant, director of the Dickson Mounds Museum.
"She did an immense amount of work," Wiant said. "She laid the groundwork for the next person to continue."
Scott also worked with Ed Jelks, ISU professor emeritus, and William Iseminger, Cahokia's assistant site manager.
But Wiant said the "real credit" goes to Scott, adding, "The greatest reward for a teacher is to see people who they mentor distinguish themselves."
Scott hopes photos of the collection might be placed online, where other researchers will see them and pick up the story.
"I started out knowing absolutely nothing," she said, referring not just to the collection but to her knowledge of projectile points.
"In a sense, we had to teach Kate to read a new language — the language of objects," Wiant said.
Along the way, she also learned about museum work.
Her adviser, Rebecca Gearhart, chairman of IWU's sociology/anthropology department, said museums are trying to connect more to their communities.
"It's an interesting time to go into museum studies," Gearhart said. "The museum walls are really going to get blasted open."