History of Native American Mounds in Wisconsin


Have you ever been hiking in the Madison area and seen mounds in the ground? Do you know the significance of a mound to Wisconsin’s history?

There are many kinds of mounds built by Native Americans. They can be shaped like panthers, bears, geese, and turtles. Others can be in the shapes of cones or lines. According to the National Park Service, the mounds were built with very little technology. Builders used baskets to gather and carry dirt to the mound location. Then they began pouring the dirt out and proceeded to press the dirt down with their hands and feet. This process took a few days as they would work from morning to night, padding down the dirt to their desired shape.

One of the most commonly known reasons to build a mound is to bury someone who passed away. These are called burial mounds. Another type of mound is an effigy mound. An effigy mound is similar to a burial mound because they are both memorials. However, these mounds are made to honor families or clans. The shape of the mound symbolizes the name of the clan. For example, the mound for the “Bear Clan” would be in the shape of a bear, and the mound for the “Thunderbird Clan” would be shaped like a bird.

During European settlement and the Westward Expansion, Native Americans were taken from their land with mounds under threat. New European developers took over and built roads and buildings without any interest or regard for what the mounds meant to the Native Americans. According to an article about the mounds in the Lake Shore Nature Preserve, even after the initial European settlement, mounds continued to be destroyed to make way for new developments. A lesser known cause of destruction towards the mounds were archaeological excavations to find artifacts. In the Great Lakes area, archaeologist Charles E. Brown and his team destroyed the mounds and dug up the bodies looking for artifacts. While Brown and the Works Progress Administration tried to rebuild the mounds, “the reconstruction was not based on [archaeologist T.H.] Lewis’ notes, and the original outlines of the mounds are lost to us forever.”

In Wisconsin, burial mounds on non-federal lands are protected by the Wisconsin Burial State Preservation law and Wisconsin Field Archaeology Act. On federal or tribal land, burial sites are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Archaeological research requires a permit from the Wisconsin Historical Society; without a permit, excavation is prohibited.

Protecting these sacred pieces of Native Americans' heritage is extremely important. Everyone should strive to preserve such a beautiful and honorable part of history.

[Source: Madison - City of Four Lakes]

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