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Effigy Mound

(1,200 to 900 years ago)

The Late Woodland achieved full expression with the emergence of several distinct burial complexes in Wisconsin. The most famous of these is the Effigy Mound complex. The experimentation in mound form begun during the Middle to Late Woodland transition achieved full flower, as people began to build burial mounds shaped like animals, spirits, people and different geometric forms.

The effigy builders had new ways of burying the dead. They did not usually leave offerings behind at gravesites. The few offerings they did leave are every-day items like arrows, cooking pots, fishing gear or sewing awls. While Middle Woodland people built mounds infrequently, effigy-builders seem to have built mounds on a seasonal basis. As a result, Effigy Mound graves usually contain only one body. Communal burial was no longer the favored burial practice. In most cases, burial and mound construction were probably completed in the span of a few days. This stands in stark contrast to Middle Woodland mortuary features, which may have been open and in use for a period of years.

Extended burial is not associated with the Effigy Mound complex. Instead, the effigy-builders favored flexed burials, bone bundle burials and cremation. Burials were located on mound floors and in sub-floor pits. Some graves were dug into older mounds. Single mounds sometimes contain several individual burials, with a mix of burial types. This mix suggests that mound building was not tied directly to the time of death of the individuals buried there. In any case, mound construction would have been limited to the warmer months.

Participants in the Effigy Mound complex continued to erect dome-shaped mounds, as well as long linear mounds and a number of geometric or abstract forms. Such mounds were probably as symbolic to Late Woodland peoples as the "true" effigies, but do not yield their meanings as readily. The animal effigies for which the period is best known come in a number of forms. The most common are bears, birds, and water spirits.


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