Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Effigy Mounds Along the Mississippi

Water & Watersheds

By John Shepard

It would be easy to overlook Effigy Mounds National Monument on a road trip or river journey along the Upper Mississippi. This beautiful natural and cultural history site is hidden away in the densely wooded, rugged bluffs near Harpers Ferry, Iowa. Once found, your next challenge is gaining perspective on the Monument's 200-plus earthen mounds, some of which suggest familiar animal figures.

Emerging Understandings

Lakota archaeologist Albert Lebeau, a National Park Service cultural resource manager at the monument who was my guide on a recent visit (see video), acknowledges that much mystery surrounds the site. Common understandings of the mounds' origins and significance are limited to what was learned from excavations conducted more than 30 years ago. That research has been interpreted through somewhat outdated archaeological theories of the so-called "mound builders" indigenous cultural group, "as if all they ever did was build mounds," Lebeau says.

Due to the fact that most of the mounds hold human remains, the monument's 2,526 acres are considered to be sacred ground. Curiously, however, the mounds lacking human remains are disproportionately those that resemble great bears or birds. You can't help but wonder why these mounds were built during what archaeologists call the Woodland Period (750 to 1400 CE)—before Europeans arrived in the region. Moreover, what significance do they hold today for Native Americans from numerous regional tribes who Lebeau says use the site for ceremonial purposes?

Lebeau and his colleagues have only begun to tap the living cultural knowledge about this special place. As they learn more, our experience will be that much richer as we explore the monument's 14 miles of steep hiking trails that wind among the mounds and steep blufflands to arrive at overlooks offering spectacular views of the Mississippi and Yellow Rivers far below.


No comments:

Post a Comment