03 March 2010
Appreciating (and preserving) native American earthworks
The best native American mounds were "effigy mounds" crafted in the shape of animals or symbols for religious or ritual purposes. The geometric mounds may be linear or conical, but the most striking ones depict birds and animals. Many of them are frankly hard to detect at eye level when you walk through a woods, and can be easily overlooked. There are a number of them within the grounds of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum that are passed by daily by dozens of wildflower-seeking hikers totally unaware that the mounds are even there, much less that they are culturally significant.
I was reminded of this topic when a friend sent me a link to the image above showing a series of bear mounds (and a bird and two linears) at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. What is most clever about the photo is how the mounds were outlined; the staff at the center waited for a minor snowfall and then simply raked the snow off the crest of the mounds to outline the figures!
For several years I've been a member of a Wisconsin organization called Cultural Landscape Legacies, which works to educate people about and to preserve the cultural heritage of Wisconsin's indigenous people. Several times a year - typically in the spring before the mosquitoes get too bad - we will go out in work crews to do maintenance work on ancient earthworks, typically along the Wisconsin River. I would encourage those of you who have an interest in matters like this to check with your local historical society to locate groups in your area where you can volunteer your time for this purpose; it's a significantly rewarding activity.