Ceremonial landscapes

Image of effigy mounds in snow on a hill.

Aerial photo of the Shadewald II mound group near the Wisconsin River in Richland County. Photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Archaeologist explores elusive story behind Wisconsin’s animal-shaped mounds Feb. 21

Effigy mounds — mounds of earth sculpted in the shape of birds, bears, and other animals and figures — are concentrated in southern Wisconsin. Built between circa 700 and 1100 A.D., they were often burial places.

While researchers have learned a lot about these mounds, explanations of their meaning remain elusive.

Drawing on archaeological and other anthropological information on Native American religion and worldviews, Robert A.  Birmingham will share the idea that often vast effigy mound arrangements are ceremonial landscapes. Birmingham will present those ideas at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in 3310 Student Union. The event is free and open to the public.

Robert A. Birmingham

Birmingham, a former Wisconsin State Archaeologist, says these ceremonial landscapes reflected a religious movement. This was a movement where key powerful spirits were periodically animated in places spirits dwell to bring blessings to humans by renewing the world and to carry the dead in cycle of death and rebirth. He will also share a hypothesis for why this might have been done in a specific geographic area in the Midwest.

Now retired, Birmingham continues to write public-oriented books on various archaeological and historical and topics.

If you go —

What: Effigy mounds lecture

Who: Robert A.  Birmingham

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21

Where: 3310, Student Union

Admission: Free