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LESSON ELEVEN Who Built the Effigy Mounds?

Introduction: Between AD 600 and AD 900 native peoples built distinctive pictorial mounds across the southern twothirds of our state in the shape of birds, bear, deer, spirit animals and people. These effigy mounds may have symbolized spirits of the sky, earth, and water, each mound group being a picture of the spiritual universe sculpted out of earth. Many of the animals depicted were associated with important clans, or groups of related families, in modern tribes, and if these same groupings had existed a thousand years ago, building the mounds together would have reinforced clan ties.

The mounds puzzled early white settlers, who were reluctant to accept that American Indians were their creators. For most of the 19th century the question of who built the mounds was debated in the press with more energy than critical judgment. A vanished race of mound builders, early European visitors, and even one of the ʺten lost tribes of Israelʺ were all said to have built the mounds. In the late 1840’s scientist Increase Lapham spent several years investigating the effigy mounds and hypothesized that ancestors of modern Indians probably built them, a theory supported in 1885 by fellow scientist R.P. Hoy. Finally, in 1894, an exhaustive survey by Cyrus Thomas proved beyond reasonable doubt that Native Americans were the mound builders.

Background Reading: ʺEffigy Mounds Cultureʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp004/?action=more_essay

Document to Analyze: ʺWho built the Wisconsin mounds?ʺ Madison Democrat, March 25, 1906 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1381

Who, What, Where, When, Why: The careful work of Lapham and Thomas did not convince everyone. The author of this short article published in 1906 in the Madison Democrat is typical of many people who looked for other explanations. The anonymous author was probably not a scientist or archaeologist. The purpose of the piece was to amuse and perhaps educate the general public about the mounds that surrounded them.

Related Documents: Lapham, Increase Allen. The Antiquities of Wisconsin (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1855). http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=216 and Hoy, P. R. ʺWho built the mounds?ʺ Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, vol. VI (1885): 84100 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1383

Vocabulary: Unfamiliar words are defined at www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary


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