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Archaeological Research at the Wisconsin Historical Society

The seed for the Wisconsin Archaeological Sites Inventory (ASI) was planted in the 1890's, with the publication of a short list of American archaeological sites reported to Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian Institution. The list included a short description of each site, grouped by county. In 1906 Charles E. Brown expanded on Thomas' idea, publishing the first Record of Antiquities in "The Wisconsin Archaeologist." As more sites were reported to Brown, he included them in a series of five “Additions” published in subsequent volumes.

Under the tenure of Joan Freeman, site information was transcribed onto a set of note cards, filed in order of county and township. The card files incorporated Brown's Records, as well as information from other published and unpublished survey reports, newspaper clippings, and county histories. With the dawning of the computer age, information from the cards was entered into a series of databases. Each database included more fields than the last and allowed greater search capabilities.

As you search the ASI you may notice that there is quite a bit of variation in the records. Newer records are usually complete, with information typed in lowercase. Older records, or records that have been recently updated, are less complete and are typed in uppercase. There may be missing letters in a few of the older records, and some strings of text may be compressed. This is the result of data migration from one format to another. We are working to standardize the records, and this will not be an issue in the future.

Much more importantly, older records may contain minimal information. This is a result of the card-filing system adopted early in the history of the ASI. Since the cards were rather small, entries on them had to be concise. Source records that may have contained several pages of detail were condensed into one or two sentences. Staff have gone back to the source records and expanded entries for some sites, but many contain only the information placed on the original note card. Similar problems were created when sites were first mapped onto USGS topographic maps. Many were mapped using only the Town-Range and Section data available on the cards, though more precise locations are given in the source records.

Finally, though attempts have been made to integrate as many sources as possible into the ASI, sites may have been overlooked. Early versions of the ASI concentrated almost exclusively on Native American sites. Marked cemeteries, settlement-era sites and known shipwrecks were integrated later. In recent years archaeologists have begun to report Euro-American farmsteads, cabins, transportation features and logging camps. Information concerning Euro-American resources is thus somewhat spotty in the ASI, and researchers would do well to examine other archival sources to determine what archaeological features may be present in their project area.


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