There are believed to be more American Indian burial mounds on UW Madison’s campus than on any other campus in North America. This is due to the fact that Wisconsin is the epicenter of effigy mound culture. At one point, there were an estimated 15,000 mounds in the state. Due to natural processes, European colonization, and urban development that number has dwindled to around 4,000.
What is an effigy mound?
These earthen monuments are believed to be indicators of a celestial event, seasonal observance, territorial markers, or burial sites. Not to be confused with a conical, dome, or platform mound —which are named after the shape of each type— effigy mounds are shaped to mirror significant symbols, animals, and even humans.
While there were once five in Wisconsin alone, Man Mound in Sauk County is the only anthropomorphic (human-shaped) effigy mound left in North America. Although, even this mound has been partially torn down to make way for a road.
Roughly 12,000 years ago, the glaciers that once covered the Madison area and much of Wisconsin retreated. This made way for a migration of Native peoples to settle here. Being in the Yahara Watershed area, the abundance of lakes and water passageways was likely a large motivator for tribes to gravitate here.
See for yourself
- Willow Drive Mounds | Effigy mounds in the shape of a goose, water spirit, and an un-named type accompany a conical mound here.
- Observatory Hill Mound Group | Walking past Agricultural Hall, you’ll be able to see a bird and a two-tailed water spirit mound.
- Eagle Heights Mound Group | A three-mound cluster is visible at the bluff in Eagle Park Woods.
- Picnic Point Mound Group | Keep your eyes peeled next time you’re walking Picnic Point for this five-mound cluster right off of the main path.