THE VERY BEGINNING
10,000 years ago, Paleoindians wandered into the land which would become known as Wisconsin. They came hunting in search of the woolly mammoth, mastodon, and bison. The vegetation on the land was increasing into an abundant crop as the glaciers started moving northward, away from the land.
THE HISTORIC PERIOD
During the first half of the nineteenth century, as Euro-American explorers traveled westward along Wisconsin’s rivers and trails, they encountered evidence of human occupation of the land. They saw earth sculpted into forms such as birds, animals and humans. The explorers found burial grounds. This was the first time any explorers had discoveried the mounds, they were bewildered by these magnificent sculptures, they recorded their findings in journals and maps and even wrote about them in letters to the Congress. The effigies were mysterious and soon the word spread about this mysterious land, which would become known as Wisconsin.
In 1634, Jean Nicolet, a French explorer, arrived in Wisconsin. Indian tribes living in Wisconsin at that time included the Ho Chunk (Winnebago), Potawatomi, Menominee, and Chippewa Indians. thus began the Historic period.
THE MISSISSIPPIAN PERIOD
The Mississippian period began about 1,000 years ago. The Oneota Indians lived in villages. They planted food crops such as corn, beans and squash. Their complex trade network extended to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
THE WOODLAND PERIOD
The Woodland period was nearly 3,000 years ago. Indians lived in large villages and were Wisconsin’s first potters. They started using bows and arrows in their hunts. It was during this period that the Indians started building mounds in Wisconsin.
These effigies were built in the shape of turtles birds, bears and other animals. There are more mounds in Wisconin that any other place int he nation. There was an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 mounds built by the Indians.
More than 4,000 of those mounds are still intact today in Wisconsin.
No where else in the world are the effigies (mounds built into the shapes of animals, birds and other forms) still standing in such large numbers.
It is believed that ancestories of todays’ Native American groups were builders of the mounds. Research has discoveried that the beliefs of these groups are very similiar to the symbolism projected in the effigy mounds built by their ancestors.
As the Euro-American settlers came into Wisconsin and started to farm and develop the land for mines, they started plowing through the mounds. Some people thought there were valuables hidden inside the earthy structures and tore into them looking for valuable objects to sell. Railways and roads were built, tearing into the mounds. It is estimated that nearly 20,000 mounds existed when the settlers first came to Wisconsin. Less than 5,000 mounds remain.
THE ARCHAIC PERIOD
The Archaic period was about 8,000 years ago. At this time, the climate started becoming warmer and drier. Large Ice Age mammals were starting to be replaced with animals which are found in Wisconsin today. The Indians lived in family groups in caves, and rockshelters. They also lived along rivers, and near lakes and wetlands. They hunted elk and deer for meat and harvested wild plants such as nuts and acorns.
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May is Wisconsin Archaeology month in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Historical Society in conjunction with Wisconsin Historic Preservation Month, along with numerous other organizations, sponsor events giving attention to many of the historic and prestoric resources.