Rochelle Lurie never anticipated she’d be digging up the past in order to make a living today, but that is what she’s been doing.

The owner and president of Midwest Archeological Research Services in Marengo, said her team has logged and preserved nearly 1,700 prehistoric and historic sites in the region since 1986.

“There are lots of different ways to skin a cat, even an archeological cat,” Lurie said. “The idea is how do you do what you want to do and make a living doing it.”

Lurie admitted she was late to party. The Chicago native, who now lives in Harvard, majored in zoology and history of religion at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Only later, at age 35, was she “bitten by the archeology bug” following history classes at Roosevelt University in Chicago and a visit to the Koster Native American excavation in downstate Greene County.

“People tend to think of early people as being primitive and that they did not really understand the environment they were living in,” Lurie said. “But that is absolutely incorrect. They had to understand where they were living and how to care for the resources they used. Those are good lessons for us as we interact with the environment today.”

Not only did Lurie participate in a weeklong archeological field school run by Northwestern University in 1974, she returned to the Evanston campus and earned a doctorate in anthropology in 1982. She is a past president of the Illinois Archaeological Survey and is on board of several Illinois Association for Advancement of Archaeology chapters.

In “Archeological How-tos,” at 3 p.m. Monday, April 1, Lurie will share stories about many of her excavations and the processes she follows to accurately document artifacts and their location. She has operated Marengo-based MARS, Inc. for about 26 years.

“I find that doing archeology through a business can be very rewarding,” Lurie said. “Most of the projects that we have are generated by the fact that people want an archeological survey … We’ve been excavating the same [forest preserve] site in Winnebago County for almost 20 years.”

Once again in July, Lurie will teach classes at a field school – in partnership with William Rainey Harper, Elgin Community and McHenry County colleges – at the Macktown National Historic Site along the Rock River south of Rockton. Now in its fourth season, the excavation centers on the former site of the 1842 William Shores house. It has yielded historic and prehistoric artifacts that date from about 8,000 years ago to the time of European settlement.

“Archeology is not about having glitzy things to excavate,” Lurie said. “You have to love a mystery. You have to be interested in human beings – how they make a living and how they get along with one another. What is the relationship of human beings in the cosmos?

“… No matter what site you excavate you cannot interview the people who live there. You have to be able to interpret what they were doing and what they were thinking by the artifacts they left behind.”

Lurie said that she and her husband traveled around Europe extensively and visited numerous archeological sites while he was stationed in Germany for three and a half years. But at that time it never occurred to her that professional archeology was a going concern in the United States.

But the information she has uncovered here undermines that argument.

 

“People tend to think of early people as being primitive and that they did not really understand the environment they were living in,” Lurie said. “But that is absolutely incorrect. They had to understand where they were living and how to care for the resources they used. Those are good lessons for us as we interact with the environment today.”

Remaining programs in the McHenry County Historical Society Sampler Series are:

• 7 p.m. Monday, April 15 – John Hallwas, regional historian, author and retired professor of English from Western Illinois University discusses early frontier lawbreakers. This program is made possible through a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

• 3 p.m. Monday, April 29 – Ders Anderson, a Crystal Lake resident and Greenways director for the Openlands Project in Chicago, discusses historic trails in the county.

All programs are at the Society museum, 6422 Main St. in Union. A $10 donation is requested for individual programs. For information, call (815) 923-2267 or visit www.mchsonline.org.