Is this an Indian mound?
August 21, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

How can we tell if we have an Indian mound on our property?

Recently inherited the farm which has been in my wife's family since the 1850s. It contains a small woods (about 6-7 acres) which has gotten overgrown with buckthorn at ground level since there have been no cows to keep it eaten down for the last 30 years. I have slowly been cutting a path (just wide enough to get a pickup through) into the interior in order to get firewood out. There is a low mound (about a foot in height), now overgrown with trees and brush, over an area maybe 30'x50', that looks like it is not of natural origin. This area has always been kept as a woods, and my wife's grandmother talked of there being Indians living there when she was a girl (perhaps the reason it was not converted into a field). Upon just a cursory examination, no shape is apparent to the mound, but with the overgrowth I may be lacking the proper perspective. Property is in the Fox River valley in east central Wisconsin. How to determine what we have here, and whether or not it has any archeological significance?
posted by ackptui to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is very interesting.

I bet if you contacted the archaeology or history department at UW-Fox Valley they might have some advice or information.
posted by bq at 4:59 PM on August 21, 2011

You should contact your state archaeologist.
posted by gudrun at 5:06 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree you should contact an archaeologist. In the mean time you might find these a bit interesting and maybe useful comparing pictures to the mound you found.

Indian Burial and Sacred Grounds Watch - Wisconsin State Law on Indian Mounds
Wisconsin Mounds -List of mounds in Wisconsin and it has info and pictures for each one
posted by Deflagro at 5:29 PM on August 21, 2011

Lucky for you! It is exciting and I agree you should contact the state archaeologist first. I live in the Pacific Northwest and I have seen many mounds that are caused by very large trees falling over (blown over) including the root wads many years prior. After the tree and root ball has rotted away all that remains is a mound that sometimes appears unnatural.

After I found numerous stone tools on my land I built a small shaker screen and found more stone fragments, points, etc.

Contact your state archaeologist and they may have tips and knowledge of your area. Have fun!
posted by nogero at 5:31 PM on August 21, 2011

As is characteristic of many effigy mound groups in south-central Wisconsin, the forms are symbolic of the three natural realms of air (bird), earth (bear), and water (water spirit or panther).

Actually...looking around, if it is a mound, it would be a low mound for burial of family or clan members.

The size seems huge to me.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:37 PM on August 21, 2011

Before you contact someone, keep in mind you might lose the use of some of your land without compensation.
posted by codswallop at 6:49 PM on August 21, 2011

Another voice for state archaeologist, if you decide to contact anyone. Please don't dig.

The general rule with archaeological sites is that they should be left as is unless there is a compelling reason to excavate - for instance, someone plans to build there, or the site is threatened by a natural disaster, etc.

Excavating is a destructive act and can't be undone, and there is a foundational principle that says if there is no pressing need to dig now, it's far better to leave the site for the future, because if there is ever a need in the future, the tools and technology available to excavators then will be better than what's available now. So the recommendation is to preserve the site as is.

However, it is worth reporting because the state researchers may at least want to come out and examine the site surface for potential cataloguing or indexing.
posted by Miko at 7:12 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm with codswallop. I'd be very concerned about losing control of the situation if it turns out to be a burial site. The descendants of whoever is buried there may have significant say in the matter.
posted by alms at 7:15 PM on August 21, 2011

I'm not sure how significant a concern that is. For one thing, no descendants can claim anything if there is no digging or identification of any remains. Again, the preference is always for leaving the site untouched unless there is a threat to the site and digging has to happen to recover any information before it is lost, or unless you have discovered it accidentally and have already opened the ground. Second, state and federal laws make provision for what can happen if the site is of interest. You might even get a break on property tax for preserving the site. But perhaps what codswallop and others are worried about is that if you do enter into an agreement with the state to receive this tax break for site preservation, that will limit what you can do with the land in the future, and it will be an entailment on any future sale of the site. But note:
Will the Wisconsin Historical Society or other archaeologists want to excavate at our site?

The purpose of the program is to preserve archaeological sites for future generations. Small scale excavations may be necessary to determine whether or not the site qualifies for the program, or to determine the boundaries of the site for the covenant. After the covenant is in place, the Wisconsin Historical Society cannot excavate at the site without permission of the landowner. If other archaeologists want to excavate at the site, approval from both the landowner and the Society would be needed.
posted by Miko at 7:38 PM on August 21, 2011

This sounds like a platform mound. These are believed to have been used as the foundation for important structures or the sites of ceremonial activities so probably not for burial. On the other hand, that sounds like a significant amount of earth moving, so there is probably some sort of burial site out there somewhere.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

As Kid Charlemagne says, this is not necessarily a burial mound. Note though that the Wisconsin Historical Society has information for landowners of possible burial sites.
posted by gudrun at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2011

Listen to Miko, she's dead on. You definitely want to contact the Office of the State Archaeologist for Wisconsin. They may even have it already recorded on the state list of sites. If not, they will want to do a survey of the surface, at least, or maybe dig a few exploratory test pits in order to determine if it's something.

Please, please don't try to dig anything out yourself. If it IS something, amateur digging can really mess up the site data. The artifacts themselves are interesting, but not as interesting, valuable, or useful as they would be with their provenance within the site also recorded. And like Miko said, unless there is a pressing need to mitigate any impact from new buildings, etc. they will likely preserve it as is.
posted by gemmy at 9:59 PM on August 21, 2011

Yes, Miko's right.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:13 AM on August 22, 2011

If you do have someone come check it out, be sure to post a follow up because I'm sure some of us would be really interested to know what you find out!
posted by Deflagro at 6:32 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older Hey, it's the new Connie Willis novel -- get the...   |   I need to temporarily become a workaholic Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.