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Archaeology of Disaster: Speaker to look at flooding past and present



A scene from the Great Flood of ’93 in Downtown Alton.

ALTON — Jacoby Arts Center will play host to geoarchaeologist Gregory Vogel, who will invite the audience to explore the prehistory and history of human interactions with local rivers and water, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.

The program is The Archaeology of Disaster: Floods in the Confluence Region Past and Present. It is offered in conjunction with the exhibit Running Water: Riverwork Project and Watershed Cairns on display through Nov. 19.

Admission is free. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

“(With rivers) drained, dammed, dredged, cleared and lined with levees, a visitor from 100 years ago would have a hard time recognizing the landscape today,” said Vogel, a Ph.D. in environmental dynamics.

“About half of the 400,000 acres of bottomland along the Illinois River are now behind levees, and much of the other half is drained and tilled. The wetlands are dry, backwater lakes are empty, and most of the floodplain simply doesn’t flood anymore – at least on a regular basis,” Vogel said.

“Whether these changes are progress in the name of civilization or regress in the name of the environment depends on your point of view, but there is no doubt that they are dramatic, large-scale, and for current purposes irreversible modifications to an entire landscape.”

Recent flooding in the confluence region adds a sense of urgency to flood control measures, and once again leads to questions about the wisdom of the current levee system, he said.

“Levees are inherently selfish constructions, flooding Peter to pay Paul as water backs up and raises river levels somewhere else,” says Vogel. “The natural state of nature is dynamic, unlike the levees built to tame it.”

Partners in the Nature + Art series are The Audubon Center at Riverlands, National Great Rivers Museum and Jacoby Arts Center.

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