Wisconsin prehistory is most strange if you’re not from Wisconsin.
Most of the sites where I’m from are boring in comparison to the diversity of sites here.
Some of Wisconsin’s more interesting prehistoric sites include: Silver Mound in Jackson County , mystery rock structures under Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Aztalan, prehistoric copper mines, and the various rock art and mound sites, especially the mound group at Lizard Mounds County Park near West Bend.
First mapped in 1883, the mound group in Lizard Mounds County Park contained a mixture of approximately 60 conical, linear and effigy mounds, of which about 28 have survived the ravages of time, modern agricultural practices and lootings.
The state purchased most of the site in 1950 and the remaining mounds were rebuilt atop their original locations, as the outlines of several were still visible.
The original mounds were likely constructed between 400 A.D. and 1200 A.D. by a group of folks colloquially known as “The Mound Builders,” and more properly known simply as Woodland peoples.
They lived during the Middle to Late Woodland period, which is characterized by diverse technological and cultural innovations and, most importantly (at least for this writing), a stronger connection and dedication to local geography. Because they were less nomadic than their ancestors, Woodland folks spent more time exploring local resources, developing specialized beliefs and social systems and such, which are partly reflected in their earthen mound art.
Mounds groups are usually found atop bluffs near a major waterway and are seen in all examples of the three mound types mentioned above. What makes the mound group at LMCP unique is that it lies on a low plateau and is surrounded by natural springs and wetlands, which feed the headwaters of a branch of the Milwaukee River.
The effigy mounds at LMCP tend to represent panthers, birds or water spirits, which makes sense as local Native Americans associated natural springs with underworld entrances for water spirits.
The Washington County Parks and Planning Department has an ambitious, multi-year goal of refurbishing the LMCP. Working in conjunction with UW-Milwaukee archaeologists, construction will begin this summer on a new, solar-powered, octagonal-shaped, open shelter interpretive center that will be integrated into the landscape allowing visitors a grand, serene view of the mound group.
A display in the center of this shelter will house a map of both the mound group as it appeared in prehistory and the group as it currently appears. Audio bits will be quietly broadcast over speakers mounted in the shelter to inform patrons as to the history and interpretation of LMCP. Other improvements include mound preservation measures consisting of seeding the mounds with low growing grasses and/or sedges to help preserve their structure, free-standing signs and small modifications to the park trails.
The LMCP will be open during construction so if you want to get a sneak peak at the improvements to the park or just immerse yourself in a wonderful cultural resource of Wisconsin, this summer will be a swell time to do so.
Supreme thanks to Cindy Leinss, Landscape Designer at the Washington County Planning and Parks Department, for her valuable information.
Jeff Moore is a data reporter with The Daily Reporter. Portions of his blog were gleaned from Indian Mounds of Wisconsin by Robert A. Birmingham and Leslie E. Eisenberg and bits of Vol. 78(1/2), 1997 of the Wisconsin Archaeologist.