North-Central Section - 42nd Annual Meeting (24–25 April 2008)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM-5:00 PM


HANGER, Rex A., Geography & Geology, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 800 West Main Street, Whitewater, WI 53190,

Effigy mounds are human-produced landscape features that are concentrated in southern Wisconsin, with limited spread to the surrounding states. The effigy mounds have been dated from AD 700 to 1050, are associated with the unique Madison Ware ceramics, and are usually attributed to the upper Midwest Woodland culture. Even after centuries of weathering and human alteration, many are still identifiable as a menagerie of common forest animals: birds, turtles, minks, panthers, bears, and even humans. These recognizable mounds are often associated with the more mysterious linear and tapered linear mounds. Because these are not clear depictions of animals, a long list of hypotheses exists for their nature and/or purpose, including: foundations for long houses, game drives, long tails of “water spirits”, symbols of a “lower world”, astronomical observation lines, and more. Comparing mound location with geologic mapping, coupled with re-examination of mound shapes, leads to the new, more parsimonious, hypothesis that the linear and tapered linear mounds represent human depiction of the orthocone nautiloid cephalopods common in the outcropping stratigraphy. They are tacit evidence that Woodland culture humans recognized these fossils as the probable remains of once-living organisms, and thus worthy of site-location among the other effigies.