A couple days ago, our little family (Sharon, Happy the Dog, and myself) made a pilgrimage to my favorite clothing manufacturer; Duluth Trading Company's flagship store now housed in a former Mustard Museum (now hardware museum, clothing store, and more) in the middle of the troll-ridden downtown of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.
That was cool and all, but on the way back east down "94," I suggested we stop at Aztalan State Park, in the town of Aztalan, and near Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
The Aztalan archaeological site has intrigued me since I stumbled upon it during a web search for something else. It's a true enigma.
Many say, "It's the most important archaeological site in Wisconsin." It certainly is a unique place, with a lot of unanswered questions.
There is what is described as a "stockade," at least in the form of what the white man calls a stockade, and many mounds that have been found to have been used for food storage, burials, and ceremonies. It is built along the Crawfish river, which is actually a tributary of the Rock River, but I doubt these names mean anything to the peoples of the time when this was an active village.
From the DNR site: "The Indian occupants who built these stockade walls have been traced to a mother site at Cahokia, a large Middle Mississippian settlement in west-central Illinois located near present day St. Louis, Missouri. Cahokia housed 20,000 people and covered five square miles. At the north end of Cahokia's "urban" center is the 14-acre Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen construction in North America.
The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. Decades of archaeological research, including carbon dating and tooth samples found at the site that were traced back to Cahokia, have provided some clues to the culture that created these mounds. It was once a village and ceremonial complex of about 500 people that thrived between 1000 and 1300 AD before the site was mysteriously abandoned."
It was a very developed little "city", unusual in many respects. It gives the impression that there was much planning involved here, and that sustainable living was happening for an extended period of time. For example, "fish weirs" were built with rock that extended underwater into the river, sort of the equivalent of our "wing-dams" on the Mississippi, to divert fish into shallower pools, presumably for capture or easier access.
"One side of the river was a wide open prairie, rich with flowers and grasses. The other side was wooded providing timber for building and wildlife for hunting. The area has dozens of springs, which to Indian people are sacred entrances to the fertile underworld.
Corn, a staple food source for the Mississippian Indians, would also have grown well in the area (and still does). Also, games of skill were played here such as "chunkey", a contest that involves throwing spears at a disc-shaped stone.
"The village flourished for about three hundred years, then sometime around 1300 AD, the Aztalan Mississippians, like their relatives at Cahokia, seemingly vanished. There are no legends telling what happened and no written accounts since the Indians lacked a written language.
Mississippian culture was still active in areas that are now the southern and southeastern states. The Spanish conquistador Hernando DeSoto and early French explorers described the Indians' customs and beliefs." There is evidence of trade with these cultures in the remains of Aztalan, including copper implements.
One hypothesis suggests the Mississippians left Aztalan when they ran out of resources. There is evidence in Cahokia that some people were malnourished – subsisting too much on corn and lacking a diet rich in protein. New climate models indicate that the Midwest also might have suffered a serious drought at the time. Violence in the region might also have chased them out of Aztalan.
Some speculate that the Oneota Indians moved into the area and were strong competitors for resources. Major Oneota occupation sites have been found at nearby Lake Koshkonong as well as near La Crosse and along the Mississippi River.
More than 80 percent of the Aztalan site has not been excavated. While some artifacts are now housed at Aztalan, many pieces are scattered throughout the area, with a large number curated at the Milwaukee Public Museum."
Sounds like another pilgrimage waiting to happen.
So for now, maybe that's all there is to say, until we can go back and see more. Maybe a visit in the warmer weather, take some tours and explore more. There is still plenty of wildlife in the area, as when we were there, turkey tracks ringed the "stockade" while deer and raccoon tracks were plentiful near the river.
It is an interesting place, an old place, with many layers of "old." I am glad there are still places like this.