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Emerson, Thomas

Research Affiliate, Prairie Research Institute

Address and Contact Information

209 Nuclear Physics Lab
23 East Stadium Dr.
M/C 571
Champaign, IL  61820


Past Positions

State Archaeologist, Illinois State Archaeological Survey (2013-2018 retired) 

Director and Principal Investigator, Illinois State Archaeological Survey (2010-2018 retired), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.  Grant Funds received total 2011 to 2010 ~37,750,000.

Adjunct Professor (1998-2018), Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois

 Adjunct Assistant Professor (1995-1998), Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois.

 Director, Laboratory of Anthropology (1998-2008), Department of Anthropology, UIUC. Managed Department of Anthropology archaeological collections and oversaw closure of LOA and dispersal of collections in 2007.  One part-time curator and students research assistants.


Director and Principal Investigator, Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois (1994–2010).  Responsible for the direction and management of multiple statewide archaeological, historical, and architectural programs housed at both the University of Illinois and various other institutions for the Illinois Department of Transportation. ITARP carries out archaeological research, surveys, testing and mitigation excavations, creates and maintains multiples databases and administrative records, produces publication series, curate major archaeological collections, does public interpretation and museum exhibits, and educational assistance programs across the state and within the University.  Manage permanent staff including approximately 75 academic professional and civil service personnel and 35-120 hourly workers. PI (1994-2010) on 55+ million dollars of grants.

 Chief Archaeologist, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (1984–1993).  Responsible for the management of multiple statewide archaeological programs and historic site resource management with staff including three professional and one clerical employees.

Experience:  Managed and developed both state and federal SHPO review and compliance programs with 5-7000 projects per annum; directed archaeological contracting and research program ranging from several thousand to three-quarter of a million dollars on over twenty historic Agency sites including Cahokia Mounds, Albany Mounds, and Ft. de Chartres; served as consultant for Agency management of its archaeological resources; developed and implemented four publication series on historical and archaeological topics for the professional, public, and   educational communities (23 volumes published); Primary author and responsibly for implementation of the Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440), the Archaeological and Paleontological Resources Protection Act (20 ILCS 3435) and accompanying regulations; worked with law enforcement in criminal investigations and served as expert witness, developed and facilitated state underwater archaeology program and participated in extensive shipwreck litigation on the Lady Elgin and Seabird cases; renovated and  revitalized state Avocational Archaeology Training Program and other amateur activities; and worked with numerous Native Americans, educational groups, special interests, legislative groups, and state and federal agencies to facilitate archaeological research and compliance at a state and national level.

Current Research:

Pipestone Sourcing Research. Joint project with Randall Hughes, Illinois State Geological Survey and Sarah Wisseman, Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials Program, to identify the pipestone sources used for Cahokia-style figurines and Hopewell effigy and plain platform pipes. Currently developing PIMA technology to source artifacts throughout the North American midcontinent. Most recently our research has considered Middle Woodland uses of catlinite and Illinois and Ohio pipestones in the midcontinent.

Upper Mississippian Research. This research focuses on diet, health, and mortuary practice of Upper Mississippian populations in the Midwest and the impact of the Cahokian political, religious, and cultural florescence on these populations. It involves analysis of physical attributes of populations including isotopic and C14 data and a reanalysis of earlier cultural and mortuary evidence collected by UIUC investigators.

Cahokian Urbanization Research. Project began in 1993 and involves the detailed re-examination of the physical anthropology, mortuary practices, isotope analysis, C14 dating, and cultural history of the emergence and decline of the Cahokian polity.


Military Service:

US Navy: 1968-70, Republic of Vietnam, Honorable Discharge.

Awards:  National Defense Service Metal, Vietnam Service Metal (w/2 stars), Vietnam Campaign Metal (w/decoration), Naval Unit Commendation Ribbon.

 Professional Awards and Honors

2019    Co-Recipient of Charles J. Bareis Distinguished Service Award presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey.  This award honors those individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to Illinois archaeology and/or the IAS. Awarded to the Upper Mississippi Valley Archaeological Research Foundation for its efforts in salvaging (1971-1978), curating, and analyzing the multiple Mississippian villages at the Orendorf Villages sites, Fulton County, Illinois.

2018    Recipient of the Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois’ Distinguished Research Scientist Award, April 11.

2018    Festschrift.  Archaeology & Ancient Religion in the American Midcontinent, (Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson), edited by Brad Koldehoff and Timothy R. Pauketat, pp. 1-368. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.

2017    Nominated for the Shanghai Archaeological Forum Research Award for New Insights into the Origins of Complexity in Eastern North America: Isotopes and Maize.

2017    Festschrift. Cahokia and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson, edited by John A. Walthall and David J. Nolan.  Illinois Archaeology, Vol. 29:1-463.

2016    Festschrift. Cahokia and Beyond: Essays in Honor of Thomas E. Emerson, edited by John A. Walthall and David J. Nolan.  Illinois Archaeology, Vol. 28:1-566.

2016    Recipient of Society for American Archaeology’s Award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management Research at the SAA Annual meeting, April 6-10, Orlando, FL.

2015    Recipient of Shanghai Archaeological Forum Field Discovery Award for Rediscovery and Large-Scale Excavation of Cahokia’s East St. Louis Precinct.  Award presented by the Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing in recognition of directing one of the top ten most important archaeological field discovery in the world, 2015.

2014    Recipient of Midwest Archaeological Conference Distinguished Career Award.  Presented at the Midwest Archaeological Conference 58th Annual meeting, October 2-4, Champaign IL.

2014    Recipient of Illinois Archaeology Career Achievement Award.  Presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey at the 58th Annual Meeting, October 2, Champaign, IL.

2014    Recipient of Charles R. McGimsey III - Hester A. Davis Distinguished Service Award.  Presented by the Register of Professional Archaeologists at Society for American Archaeology meetings, Austin, Texas, April.

2011    Recipient of FHWA Environment Excellence Award for Archaeological Investigations of New Mississippi River Bridge. Presented at International Conference on Ecology and Transportation, Seattle WA, August 21-25.

2010    Recipient of Exemplary Human Environment Initiative Award - Project Notification

System for Section 106 Tribal Consultation (IDOT-BDE). Presented for development and implementation of a web-based process of tribal consultations by the FHWA.

2002    The Robert L. Stigler, Jr., Lectures in Archaeology, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.  November 21, 2002

2001    Nominated by Department of Anthropology for the Chancellor Academic Professional’s Excellence Award.

1997    Recipient of Distinguished Service Award. Department of Anthropology, UIUC.

1996    Recipient of Charles J. Bareis Distinguished Service Award presented by the Illinois Archaeological Survey for “accomplishments that are extraordinary in every sense of the    word and are of a positive and lasting quality". Awarded for organizing a four-year public effort to save the Grand Village of the Illinois from destruction by development.

Additional Resources

LDAP Details for Emerson, Thomas