COD Anthropology Instructor and Warrenville Historical Society Unearth Major Discovery

By: Angela Mennecke

COD Professor Dale Simpson working alongside two COD students as they examine the Mack Lithic Collection

Understanding the Past, Present and Future of DuPage County

College of DuPage Anthropology adjunct faculty member Dale Simpson, Jr. is working alongside current and former COD students to explore artifacts from the Warrenville Historical Society. The research, part of a years-longpartnership with the organization, has uncovered evidence that the area has been inhabited for 8,000 to 10,000 years.

With a shared passion for community education, Simpson and Warrenville Historical Society Director Sara Phalen have worked together since 2017 to create archaeological, museological and material culture educational programs for DuPage County residents.

Throughout this time, they often discussed the Mack Lithic (stone tool) Collection, housed at the society’s Museum since its donation by the family in the 1980s. Together, Simpson and Phalen began to formulate their research design for this important pre-colonial collection.

The current project – “Creating context, classification and curation for the Warrenville Historical Society’s Mack Lithic Collection” – provides an opportunity for Phalen, Simpson, COD students and local researchers to better understand the ancient, as well as more recent, ancestors of DuPage County. As it turns out, the collection represents all phases of Illinois archaeology.

“It is through collaboration with multiple institutions like College of DuPage that we have been able to start this project off with such a significant finding,” Phalen said.

Before the curation project took shape, the Mack family artifacts were in framings around the museum, but Simpson and Phalen wanted to create an immersive experience for museum guests to understand the links between the past and present, for the future.

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The Mack family of Warrenville donated artifiacts they found in and around their farm to the Warrenville Historical Society in the late 1980s.

“We want community members to interact with history,” Phalen said. “We are laying the groundwork for citizen science. Patrons can now interact with artifacts, weigh them and analyze the source material. They can interact with them in a way that when they leave the museum, they are taking a bit of history with them.”

Unique COD Internship Opportunity

Wanting to give students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience, Simpson invited two COD Anthropology students to help curate the collection.

Current COD student Sofia Walendziak and alumnus James McGinty are working on creative projects for the Mack Lithic Collection exhibit, including educational activities with which museum goers can interact.

Walendziak is majoring in anthropology and has been accepted to study archaeology at the University of Illinois next semester.

“Originally, I was interested in paleontology, but working on a research project as an undergraduate is a real unique opportunity,” she said. “I believe working on this project will help open more doors for me at UIUC and will expand my academic background in the field of archaeology.”

McGinty has worked with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and has conducted fieldwork in the U.S. and internationally.

“Working with this collection not only helps me to fulfill my goals as a professional in archaeology, but also to better connect to the deeply rooted and fascinating pre-contact period of my hometown of Warrenville,” he said.

Simpson’s goal as an instructor is to share his passion for anthropology with his students and get them to think outside of the box.

“I love letting students show their creativity in this field,” he said. “Many of my students have never interacted with artifacts. This hands-on experience is huge for students. We are shaping the next generation of anthropologists and I’m grateful to be able to mentor them and give them this one-of-a kind experience.”

COD and Warrenville Historical Society Future Collaboration

With project funding secured for three years, Simpson and Phelan plan to provide more educational opportunities for COD students and faculty, as well as community members.

“We still have a lot of work left to do with the Mack Lithic Collection, including 3D scanning and printing to make the collection more accessible to students, researchers and the general public, but we also want to start examining other collections in the area to better understand 10,000 years of human habitation in our community,” Simpson said.