The Earliest History Of Southern Illinois

Illinois is known for its flat fields and wooded landscapes. But where did these vast swaths of land come from? How did they form? From Chicago headed south, you’ll find dozens of small towns and big farms. The farther you travel, the more change you experience. Here’s some of the earliest history of Southern Illinois — and we do mean “earliest.”

Associate Professor James Conder from SIU Carbondale said, “Southern Illinois is a bit different than most of the rest of the state. Looking north gives you a much different perspective than looking south.”

The reason why? Glaciers. Before the last Ice Age ended, glaciation in the area flattened the landscape around 150,000 years ago. Conder described, “It basically mowed over everything in the north and flattened it.”

More recently, another movement caused another significant period of flattening around 15,000 years ago. 

But the landscape wasn’t only determined by what was going on over the surface of the land — it was also determined by what was going on underneath the land. Continental drift over millions of years was a major factor in creating this naturally flat landscape.

This world’s landscapes are all the result of constant movement. The glaciers, the tectonic plates…and springs, streams, and rivers flowing from one end of the continent to the other. The Mississippi Embayment transports sediment but also helps regulate the climate of Illinois. It also sets the perfect conditions to make swampy terrain that you would find in the Southern Illinois wetlands.

Millions of years ago, all these conditions combined likely resulted in an inland ocean that would have creeped up over Southern Illinois. That’s part of the reason why the southern regions are so different from the northern ones. The conditions were also the ingredients for the bountiful natural resources you find here today: coal, oil, and natural gas.

Conder said, “You can definitely still see the effects today.”

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