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Early inhabitants of the upper Midwest region existed on hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. It is believed these groups moved often, likely following the food sources. Sometime after 700 BC, pottery and domestication of plants began to spread in the region. Within this same time period began the building of "Effigy Mounds" in the region.
The time of earthen burial mounds is known as the Woodland Tradition and is thought to be between 500 BC and 1300 AD. The late Woodland Tradition era gave rise to the bow and arrow, as well as agriculture. In this period, native peoples began to bury their dead in these mounds, simply, without earthly belongings that are common in other cultures.
The mounds can be simple cones or long, straight mounds but others were built in the shape of woodland creatures. No one is sure why, but it is believed the mounds may have been symbolic of religious beliefs or to honor spirits of the earth, and many were built in the shapes of bear, deer, birds or other creatures. A mound in the shape of a human, perhaps a god, is located near Baraboo, Wisconsin in Man Mound Park
For many years, the mystery of the origin of the mounds was debated hotly while little scientific research went into the effort. Increase A. Lapham
, a prominent Wisconsin citizen, scientist and archeologist, did serious research on the burial mounds in the 1840s. He mapped and cataloged many of the mounds for the Smithsonian Institution. An 1894 survey concluded that the mounds had been built by Native Americans.
At one time, it is thought that thousands of these mounds were located in the region. Many were destroyed in development or agriculture, but several hundred have survived.
For more information about this fascinating topic, see the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society
, which includes links to articles about Increase A. Lapham, effigy mounds and Aztalan.
, now a state park, was first described by Nathaniel F. Hyer in a letter to Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett, asking for advice on the best way to preserve Aztalan from obliteration. (A copy of the letter is available for viewing on the Wisconsin Historical Society
(Jefferson County, Wisconsin)
(Clermont County, Ohio)Burial mound built by the Adena Culture between 1000 B.C and 400 A.D.
(Dane County, Wisconsin)Fox Shape Effigy Mound, Owned and protected by Wisconsin Archeological Society
High Cliff, Wisconsin
(Calumet County, Wisconsin)1,147 acre park situated on the northeastern shore of Lake Winnebago on the Niagara Escarpment
(Milwaukee County, Wisconsin)A 138 acre park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, located on the shore of Lake Michigan on Milwaukee's East Side
Lizard Mound County Park
(Washington County, Wisconsin)Acquired by Washington County from the State of Wisconsin in 1986
(Sauk County, Wisconsin)An effigy mound built in the shape of a human.
New Lisbon Mound Group
(Juneau County, Wisconsin)A collection of effigy mounds along the shore of the Lemonweir River
(Jefferson County, Wisconsin)The only known Intaglio Effigy left in the world.
(Winnebago County, Wisconsin)Effigy Mounds