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Indian Mounds of Wisconsin

Robert A. Birmingham, Leslie E. Eisenberg

Publication Year: 2000

More mounds were built by ancient Native American societies in Wisconsin than in any other region of North America--between 15,000 and 20,000 mounds, at least 4,000 of which remain today. Most impressive are the effigy mounds, huge earthworks sculpted into the shapes of birds, animals, and other forms, not found anywhere else in the world in such concentrations. This book, written for general readers but incorporating the most recent research, offers a comprehensive overview of these intriguing earthworks and answers the questions, Who built the mounds? When and why were they built?
The archaeological record indicates that most ancient societies in the upper Midwest built mounds of various kinds sometime between about 800 B.C. and A.D. 1200; the effigy mounds were probably built between A.D. 800 and A.D. 1200. Using evidence drawn from archaeology, ethnography, ethnohistory, the traditions and beliefs of present-day Native Americans in the Midwest, and recent research and theories of other archaeologists, Birmingham and Eisenberg present an important new interpretation of the effigy mound groups as "cosmological maps" that model ancient belief systems and social relations. It is likely that the distant ancestors of several present-day Native American groups were among the mound-building societies, in part because these groups’ current clan structures and beliefs are similar to the symbolism represented in the effigy mounds.
Indian Mounds of Wisconsin includes a travel guide to sites that can be visited by the public, including many in state, county, and local parks.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book was stimulated by growing public interest in Indian mounds. For more than a decade, rarely has a day passed when we at the State Historical Society did not respond to requests for background material on mound building and mound research in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we found that there was no single source on these important and interesting topics to ...

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1. The Mystery of the Mounds

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pp. 3-12

Indian mounds are a part of the Wisconsin landscape. When the first European and American explorers and settlers arrived in what would become the state of Wisconsin, between 15,000 and 20,000 of these earthworks could be found clustered along lakes, beside rivers, and on hilltops, often arranged in complex patterns that harmoniously, even artfully, blended with the natural ...

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2. Speculation, Excavation, Explanation: In Search of the Mound Builders

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pp. 13-68

Who built the mounds? This is the question still most frequently asked about Indian mounds. Today, the question most often concerns the identity of the specific Native American people among the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), Menominee, Potawatomi, Chippewa, and other modern tribes that live or lived in the Wisconsin mound district. As ludicrous as it may now...

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3. Wisconsin before the Mound Builders: The Paleo-Indian and Archaic Traditions

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pp. 69-81

The story of the mound builders began when the first humans migrated into what is the state of Wisconsin. When and where the first people appeared in the Western Hemisphere are interesting issues that are currently a focus of great debate and discussion in archaeological circles. Most archaeologists would agree, however, that the first Americans trekked from Asia across the ...

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4. Early Burial Mound Builders: The Early and Middle Woodland Stages

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pp. 82-99

Until recently, the construction of burial mounds, along with the introduction of pottery vessels after about 1000 B.C., was used to mark the beginning the Woodland period or tradition in eastern North America. It is now clear that the custom of mound building is much older and the result of social and economic changes already under way during the Archaic. ...

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5. Effigy Mound Builders: The Late Woodland Stage

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pp. 100-141

The far-flung Hopewell trade and ceremonial complex was gradually replaced in Wisconsin by more regionally focused social relationships. It is not possible to fully document changes in political and social organization during this transition, except to note that social status ceased to be marked by lavish grave offerings in burials, suggesting that social differentiation ...

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6. Temple Mound Builders: The Mississippian Tradition

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pp. 142-162

The fate of the Late Woodland mound builders and the emergence of the Oneota culture in Wisconsin were inextricably tied to the evolution of a new civilization that was springing from the vast fertile Mississippi River flood-plains of southern Illinois. Around A.D. 800, local Late Woodland people in this “American Bottom” made the shift to corn horticulture and within a few ...

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7. Mound Construction and Use in Later Times: Oneota, Northern Wisconsin, and the Historic Period

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pp. 163-179

Nonindigenous travelers in southern Wisconsin between about A.D. 1300 and 1650 would have found an eerie place. Moving westward across what is now Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties, they would have stumbled across several hundred large ceremonial centers consisting of clusters of curious earthen mounds built in the shape of birds and animals, now abandoned and ...

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8. Indian Mounds in the Modern World

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pp. 180-192

The great era of Indian mounds, which began in Wisconsin around 800 B.C., lasted for about 2,000 years. The earliest mounds, large and round or conical, were built as crypts in which to inter community leaders and their families and as landmarks to visually anchor mobile bands and tribes in the natural and supernatural worlds. Rituals that attended periodic mound ...

Appendix: Selected Mound Sites Open to the Public

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pp. 193-208


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pp. 209-226


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pp. 227-239


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pp. 240-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780299168735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299168704

Publication Year: 2000