Anna Blume FDGA 2016
American Indian Engineering and Monumental Architecture in the Mississippi River Valley
Phase One: Wisconsin, Illinois, Louisiana and Indiana
During this first month of research along the Mississippi I have been able to visit over three major archeological sites and several unmarked forest sites where American Indians have left traces of monumental architecture and earthworks. Being at these sites at different times of the early morning, day and evening has given me a profound sense of the importance of the landscape and the mighty presence and effect of the Mississippi River. Colleagues from many different disciplines have been exceedingly informative and helpful in guiding me to obscure sites I would not otherwise have known about. These travels – from the monumental pyramids of Cahokia, Illinois to the massive earthworks at Poverty Point, Louisiana – have astounded me in regards the scale and magnificence of American Indian architecture along the lower Mississippi. During the last days of this Phase One of my travels and studies I have begun to look at bannerstones. American Indians as early as 5,000 BC pecked and carved and ground these stones into exceptional abstract forms. They placed these on their atlatls or spear-throwers. My meeting in Indiana with Dave Lutz, the foremost expert on bannerstones, has lead me to believe that these archaic forms will be extremely important to my understanding of the larger earthworks I will continue to visit, reflect upon and begin to write about in Phase Two of my project.
Phase Two: Wisconsin and Iowa
During the last six weeks of the summer I studied and collected images of maps and land surveys of the mounds around Lake Mendota, especially those of the Mendota State Hospital site. I was able to meet with Professor James Scherz and to discuss with him his surveying methods dating back to the 1980’s. We looked at several of Theodore Lewis’s late 19th century calculations together to determine the size of the effigy mounds at the site. Amy Rosenbourgh, State Archeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society, gave me access to copies of Lewis’s unpublished surveys that opened up an entirely new way of looking at and experiencing these earthworks. I was also able to return to and photograph the Borcher’s Beach mound site that is all but consumed by the summer forest. This site has proven to be additionally important because of the trace of garden beds that reflect another treatment of the land parallel to mound-building. Given what I am able to see of the mounds today in relation to historical and cartographic material, I will continue to focus on the Mendota State Hospital and Borcher’s Beach sites along Lake Mendota. These two sites, along with Poverty Point Louisiana and Serpent Mound Ohio will be ve1y important to my study of monumental American Indian Earth works in the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys In addition to the essay I will write on the effigy mounds I have been invited to return to the University of Wisconsin Arboretum to give a lecture on the mounds in October, 2015. I very much look forward to this opportunity to discuss with my colleagues here in Madison my thoughts and ideas. I also look forward to this lecture as an opportunity to give something back to the community and the landscape itself, both of which have been immensely generous to me of these past ten weeks.