Michael Hollow Road
Michael, IL 62065
Ellenor White, Executive Director
John White, Director of Education
Jonah White, Staff Naturalist

Phone: (618) 576-9255 - Fax: (618) 576-2478 - E-Mail:

A group sits on small boulders at the edge of a rocky creek bed. Over the gurgling water sounds the clinking of stone against stone as one strikes another, driving off a razor-sharp sliver. An antler tine is pressed against the sharp jagged edge and soon it is transformed into an oval hide-scraper. This small tool is then taken over to where a deerskin is stretched on a frame and is used to scrape fat and membranes from the hide in preparation for tanning.

Another flake is driven off the flint cobble and is used to cut a circular piece from an already-tanned deerskin. After an awl has made a series of holes around the edge and a two-ply cord threaded through, this flat piece of leather is transformed into a small neck pouch suitable for the storage of special stones and fossils that the student will find during field trips to follow.

The hallmark of Ancient Lifeways Institute is the focus on traditional technologies which allow us to glimpse the world-view of ancient cultures. Through the handling of raw materials and the use of tools of our ancestors, we approach the world through their eyes. For 30 years Ancient Lifeways Institute has refined techniques that result in increased understanding of earlier ways of life and focusing on the use of culturally appropriate environments.

Conceived and run by John White (click for resume) and Ela White (click for resume), both of Native ancestry, Ancient Lifeways Institute works with all age groups in glimpsing meaningful aspects of Native culture. We achieve this through many approaches:

Field Schools - Continuously occupied for over 12,000 years, this rugged environment bears the evidence of countless geological epochs. All of the major resources utilized by earlier peoples are readily available. Our stream beds contain some of the finest flint, which students learn to identify and use. For the manufacture of pottery, clay deposits on Ancient Lifeways Institute's land provide unlimited quantities of raw material. The hills flourish with deer, turkey, owl and coyotes and students observe (from a safe distance) the activities of a herd of buffalo. Local plant fiber is made into cordage from which fishing gear is constructed and used in local ponds. Daytime activities revolve around a cycle of the seasons and the gathering and utilization of appropriate natural resources. In the evening social activities take center stage with Native games, songs and dances. Each evening culminates with a traditional Native story told by John White in a reproduced lodge lit by a central hearth. After the story, the students retire to the long houses where they will sleep, listening to the sounds of the night.

Workshops - Ancient Lifeways Institute has had much experience in developing workshops relating to a specific culture utilizing appropriate archaeological and ethnographic data. Past workshops have ranged from those geared to specific Native American tribes, such as the Illinois, Ioway or Menominee, to the European Bronze Age and the life and times of the "Ice Man" found in the mountains between Italy and Switzerland. Ancient Lifeways' students have mastered skills as varied as the use of Aztec atl-atls and the writing of Cuneiform clay tablets.

Recognizing the need for specialized training of site interpreters and museum educators, Ancient Lifeways personnel have conducted many specialized workshops to meet their needs at places such as Living History Farms (Des Moines, IA), Field Museum (Chicago), New York State Museum (Albany), Sunwatch Village (Dayton, OH), Jamestown Settlement Museum (Williamsburg, VA).

Living History events and reenactments have their own special needs which Ancient Lifeways Institute bas been meeting for a number of years. Bringing out the richness of Native culture appropriate to the time period and location of an event, adds a new dimension to the experience of staff and participants and enhances their ability to communicate this to the public. We participate and demonstrate regularly in tile Feast of the Hunters' Moon (West Lafayette, IN) and Mississinewa 1812 (Marion, IN).

These programs are tailored to meet the needs of a specific site or to enhance a school's curriculum.. Often they are focused on a specific technology, such as ceramics or weaving.

Design and interpret museum displays - The Ancient Lifeways staff has been involved in the creation of museum displays ranging from a full-size Pawnee Earth Lodge inside the Field Museum (Chicago) to the steps in manufacture of a wooden bowl, through burning and scraping at the Cahokia Mounds Museum (Collinsville, IL). A special area has been the reproduction of perishable materials, such as cordage and weaving, to bring realism to living areas in dioramas (see especially the New York State Museum, Albany, illustrated in Museum, April 1989).

Traditional house construction - Ancient Lifeways Institute has constructed many native houses for museums, historic sites, schools and state fairs. We have had extensive experience in converting post mold patterns, uncovered by archaeologists, into three-dimensional living environments. Traces of activity areas found by archaeologists can become a focal point for replicated technologies and lifeways, bringing to life facets of prehistoric life which are often overlooked.

We have acted in a consulting capacity with institutions and historic sites involving the construction of appropriate buildings as well as transforming them into rich living environments.

Native American House Construction

Nanticoke thatched lodge 7' diam Maryland 1950
Nanticoke oval winter lodge 8' x 12'Lansdowne, PA 1952
Mat lodge, rectangular 40' x 20' Russell, IL 1974
Winter lodge oval 12' x 18' Kampsville, IL1976
Pawnee Earth Lodge, 40' diameter Field Museum 1976
Mat House, oval 12' x 24' Kampsville, IL1977
Archaic House, thatched (based
on data from Koster Site) 24' x 28'
Kampsville, IL1978
Mississippian House, thatched
(based on archaeological data) l2' x 24'
Kampsville, IL 
Mat House, oval 12' x 24' Kampsville, IL1978
Winter Lodge, thatched 8' x 12' Kampsville, IL1978
Middle Woodland squared oval
house, 18' x 32' (archaeological)
Archaic Earthlodge 24' x 28' Peoria, IL 1979
Mat House, oval 12' x 30' Kampsville, IL1980
Bark-covered lodge, 8' x 12' Kampsville, IL1980
Middle Woodland mat lodge 28' x 18' Jackson, TN 1980
Late Woodland mat house 12' x 24' Blue Island, IL1980
Mississippian Council House 45' x 30'Florissant, MO1980
Mississippian house 24' x 28' Kampsville, IL1981
Summer Lodge, rectangular 18' x 26' Kampsville, IL1981
Winter Lodge, oval 12' x 18' Kampsville, IL1981
Winter Mat Lodge 12' x 18 Canton, MO 1981
Kaskaskia House from the Zimmerman
Site, double-walled, proto-historic,
thatched 24' x 28'
Michael, IL 1982
Ioway Bark Lodge 16' x 23' Des Moines, IA1983
Middle Woodland oval lodge 12' x 18'Pinson Mounds, TN 
Late Woodland Pit House 10' x 15' Michael, IL 1985
Middle Woodland Mat House,
oval 15' x 30'
Michael, IL1986
Mat Lodge, oval 8' x 12' Michael, IL 1987
Kaskaskia Mat Lodge 24' x 24' Michael, IL 1989
Illinois Longhouse 38' x 18' Michael, IL 1989
Powhaten Bark Lodge 18' x 20'
(Jamestown Settlement Museum)
Williamsburg, VA1989
Pawnee Earth Lodge, 40' diameter
(Chicago Tribune, Monday, August 13, 1990)
Field Museum1990
Mohawk Longhouse 60'x 20'x 20'
(New York State Museum)
(The New York Times, Thursday, October 8, 1992)
New York State Museum1990
Mississippian House, 12' x 8'Louisville KY State Fair 
Paleolithic Cave, 18' diameter Michael, IL 1991
Bark Lodge, 12' diameter Louisville, KY1993
Seneca Long House, 65' x 20' x 20'
Ganondagan Historic Site
Victor, NY


Town of White

In the Seneca language, Ganodagein literaity means
Town of White. Among the Iroquois, this symbolizes
peace, purity and truth. Seneca elders connect
Ganondagan with the life of Jikonhsaseh, also known
as the Peace Mother or the Mother of nations, who
was one of the founders of the League of the Iroquois.

When the Marquis de Denonville attacked this site in
1687, it was the largest settlement of the eastern
Seneca. He called it Gannagaro, a name he probably
learned from his Christisn Mohawk Guides.

During the planning for this State Historic Site, Seneca
elders sought to reestablish a Seneca placename for
it. They chose Ganondagan to honor the memory of
Jikonhsadeh and role in perfecting the message
of peace.


Storytelling of the Woodlands - The stories chosen for telling by John White fall into several categories.

Illinois Language - The Illinois language and its various dialects was spoken throughout the heart1and of native North America, including all of Indiana and Illinois and portions of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan and Arkansas. Part of the great Algonkin language family, words are to be found in common use in place names such as Chicago, Mississippi, Meramec, and Michigan as well as in words such as moccasin, pecan and tomahawk.

Language sources available to us at the present time include the writings of Jesuit missionaries from the 1600s up to vocabulary lists and stories obtained from native speakers in this century.

Ancient Lifeways Institute has published several small books about the use and teaching of Illinois language. They are the

Tours to significant sites of native cultural importance - Within 100 mile radius of St Louis, we can lead tours to sites which have seen 13,000 years of human occupancy in the Midwest. These range from a place where Ice Age hunters stalked mastadons to the largest earth construction north of the Valley of Mexico.

Cave of the Bears, overlooking the Illinois River Valley, where one can feel the stone walls polished by countless generations of hibernating bears. One can even trace claw marks on the limestone wall.

Mastadon Kill Site and Museum at Kimswick, Missouri. Known for years as a source of mastadon bones, this 11,000-year-old site has recently gained even greater importance with the discovery of butchering marks on the bones and stone tools.

Modoc Rock Shelter at the eastern edge of Mississippi River Valley has provided shelter for ancient communities since the end of the Ice Age. Analysis of debris and artifacts from the site has given us great insights into the daily life after the retreat of the glaciers and allow us to visualize the growing complexity and sophistication of ancient lifeways.

Astronomical alignment of Middle Woodland (Hopewell) Mound Groups in the Illinois River Valley. Two thousand years after they were constructed, modern observers can still determine the date of solstices and equinoxes, as well as glimpse the unexpected sophistication of their mathematical and geometric knowledge at such an early period.

Cahokia Mounds and Museum. In the year 1200 ce, ancient Cahokia was a metropolis larger than London or Paris. The center of a sphere of influence that extended in all directions for hundreds of miles, Cahokia represents the apex of Mississippian Culture The largest mound at the site is over 100’ high and covers 14 acres.

Sites associated with the French and Indian interaction. These include Starved Rock on the Illinois River where the French built a fort and encouraged a concentration of over 12,000 Illiniwek to counter the Iroquois threat.

Ft de Chartres, south of St Louis on the east bank of the Mississippi, was at one time the most elaborate stone fort in the Midwest. Nearby is the small settlement of Prairie de Rocher still inhabited by the descendants of the French who settled there in 1703.

Kaskaskia Island and the Church of the Immaculate Conception, founded by Father Marquette in 1675 as a mission to the Kaskaskia Indians. The congregation of this church is still to a great extent composed of the descendants of the French and Kaskaskias. The church’s record books go back to the Late 1600s.

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