Mound Group Archaeological District (plan)
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Burial Mound Archaeological sites
Historic Condition of the Edgewood Mound group:
Some of the area on the North side of Lake Wingra was surveyed by Increase Lapham in 1850. He recorded the existence of a number of effigy, conical, and linear mounds in the general area of what is present-day Edgewood. In 1885, T. H Lewis studied mounds in the Mississippi Valley area, including mounds as far east as Dane Country (where Edgewood is located) and recorded similar findings, although by this date many of the mounds that existed in Lapham's day had been destroyed by farming, road construction, or housing developments. Since the 55 acres at Edgewood had few buildings on the property and since only a small amount of the farmable land had been plowed, most of the mounds still survived at the turn of the 20th century. In a letter of May 14, 1908, Charles Brown, curator of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, wrote appreciatively of the Dominican Sisters of Edgewood, praising their "kind decision to permanently preserve in the interest of history and education the several fine effigy and linear Indian earthworks on your beautiful grounds at Edgewood Villa." Brown realized that by the early twentieth century, many of the other mounds in the Madison area had disappeared, including a group along Jefferson Street adjacent to the Edgewood property.
Current condition of the Edgewood Mound group:
Most of the mounds recorded in the 19th century are still present. Recognized today on the Edgewood Campus are three effigy mounds (bird, bear, and panther or water spirit), two linear mounds, and nine conical mounds. The two surviving linear mounds were mutilated over the years, and the effigy mounds retained some partial damage as well. The tips of the bird's wings were destroyed, as were part of the bear's head and the panther or water spirit's tail. On-going studies may bring to light other mounds that at present seem to be lost.
The Edgewood Mound Group is a remarkably well-preserved part of the Late Woodland earthen mound creation culture more than one-thousand years old. The area was and still is considered sacred, particularly by the Ho-Chunk, people who inhabited the region in historic times and whose tribal lands now lie north of Madison. The Edgewood Mound Group contains one example each of the effigy representations of the "three natural realms air (bird), earth (bear), and water (water-spirit or panther) that provide the resources on which humans depend . . . [and thus] symbolize and ritually maintain balance and harmony with the natural world" ( Robert A. Birmingham. and Leslie E. Eisenberg, Indian Burial Mounds of Wisconsin [Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000], 113). The effigy mounds are also considered important as clan totems. The Edgewood group also contains a number of conical mounds, in some cases possibly "chain" or compound mounds found elsewhere in the region, including burial sties (Birmingham, 113). Because the Edgewood property was kept relatively undeveloped until the 1950s, the mound group has remained fairly intact to the present, whereas most of the other Madison-area mound groups have disappeared over the past 150 years under the plow or under road or building construction.
For today's students and staff at Edgewood College, as well as for visitors, study of the mound group provides direct and invaluable experience to Native American history and to the Late Woodland people's cultures still evident on this campus. The spiritual and ecological values inherent in this study are an essential part of the educational process at the college.
Birmingham, Robert A., and Leslie E. Eisenberg. Indian Burial Mounds of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.
Rankin, Kitty. Edgewood College Mound Group. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1991.