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Archaeological Sites in the Upper Kickapoo Valley

More than 450 prehistoric archaeological sites dating between 10,000 B.C. and A.D. 1150 have been identified by archeological surveys within the District. Most of the surveys were conducted between 1960 and 1974 by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Survey methods ranged from surface collection and shovel testing to interviews with local collectors. The surveys were performed in connection with plans for a proposed dam, reservoir, and recreational area to be constructed within this portion of the Kickapoo Valley. However, because of possible environmental impacts, together with the project’s rising costs, the work was stopped when the dam was only partially completed.

Examples of Types of Archeological Sites

Rockshelters are primarily overhangs formed in the soft sandstone in the cliffs along stream and river edges. Some of these rockshelters contain ancient fire hearths and refuse pits, which are buried beneath 1 to 15 feet of stratified (layered) sandy soils and rocky, roof-fall debris on the shelter floor. Radiocarbon dating of plant and animal remains, as well as the style or artifacts found in these shelters, provides the basis for dating the occupation strata, or layers, of the shelter. The dates and artifact styles also suggest the shelter’s relationship to other sites in the District and in southwestern Wisconsin. Generally, preservation in rockshelters is better than in open-air sites because of greater protection from wind and rain. Carbonized (charred) plant remains and animal bones from rockshelters provide information about the diet and the seasonal movements of the people who occupied them.

In the Districts Bard Lawrence Rockshelter, for example, stratified deposits representing many episodes of occupation were dated by artifact style and radiocarbon analysis of charcoal from fire hearths. The remains of deer, elk, bear, puma, and wolf, as well as smaller animals such as fox, fisher, raccoon, muskrat, and beaver, were discovered in this rockshelter. Evidence of birds, such as turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, and robin, in addition to turtle and fish, was also present. The animal bones from the shelter suggest that it was used primarily during the winter. For example, the frontal bones of deer skulls suggest they were killed during the anterless period between January and the first of May.

Burial Mounds in the District are conical, oval, or linear. They are commonly thought to be affiliated with the Woodland Tradition (500 B.C. to A.D. 1000). Generally, they are situated on prominent areas of high ground, often 100 to 200 feet above the valley floor. Some mounds were ritually constructed over a long period of time with different burial episodes adding to the size and shape of the mound. Oval and linear mounds were often formed when burials were placed next to each other, or the mound was expanded horizontally. Conical mounds were built up vertically. Burial mounds are sacred features on this cultural landscape and should be treated with the respect afforded any cemetery.

 

 
One of the rock shelters in the KVR

Petroglyphs are images etched into rock. Typically, petroglyphs in the Upper Kickapoo Valley Prehistoric Archeological District were formed by carving grooves into soft sandstone outcrops to form images. Often, more than one image may be found at a site, comprising a rock art or petroglyph panel.

Prior to 1997, only one petroglyph site, the Hanson petroglyphs, had been identified within the District, and only three other sites were reported for the Upper Kickapoo Valley Area. The Hanson petroglyphs were known to local residents and reported to archeologists in 1960 during the first archeological survey of the proposed reservoir. This site is a panel of three complete bird figures and the wing of a fourth bird, suggesting that more figures were present in the past.

During the 1997 and 1998 archeological surveys, more than six additional sites were identified. All of the newly identified sites consist of abstract combinations of lines carved in the soft sandstone.

It is difficult to date and interpret petroglyph sites. The age of some sites may be suggested by the degree of weathering, the extent to which the petroglyphs are covered by lichens, or stylistic markers such as bows and arrows. The history and traditions of ancestral Native American groups may provide provocative interpretations for many petroglyph sites.

Open-Air Sites are located in both lowland and upland settings across the Upper Kickapoo Valley. Most of the open-air sites are seasonal campsites used repeatedly during the annual cycles of hunting and gathering. These sites vary in their landscape position, size, and the archeological materials they contain, reflecting why particular sites were selected during different time periods. Site selection would have depended on factors such as the season, the survival strategy, or the type of work that was to be done (kill site, camp site, plant gathering area, tool workshop, etc.)

The majority of the open-air sites have been identified in upland settings and are thought to represent Middle and Late Archaic activities (3500 B.C. to 500 B.C.), as indicated by the abundance of Raddatz side-notched and expanding-stemmed Durst projectile points throughout the District. Most of these upland sites were probably short-term hunting camps or traveling stops, as suggested by the thin scatters of chipped stone flakes and broken stone tools, which may represent food processing and tool sharpening activities. However, some upland sites may have had longer and more frequent use, as suggested by more extensive artifact scatters and cultural features, such as fire hearths, refuse pits, or concentrations of artifacts. A fire pit may be identified by concentrations of fire-cracked rock and charcoal. Features provide evidence of different activities at the site and often suggest more intensive use of the site.

Interestingly, sites that have been identified in lowland settings appear to represent mostly occupations during the Woodland period (500 B.C. to A.D. 1000), as suggested primarily by the presence of pottery on many of these sites. It is likely that these lowland sites were occupied during the spring, summer, or fall, because they provided abundant food resources such as edible roots, fish, turtles, mussels, waterfowl, and aquatic mammals.

The setting where open-air sites are found may reflect the difficulties of locating archeological sites in lowland settings where they can be deeply buried by the river’s flood deposits or it may reflect the erosion of Archaic and Paleo-Indian sites by the Kickapoo River.


 

 

 

 

 

Kickapoo Valley Reserve | S3661 State Highway 131 | La Farge, Wisconsin 54639 
Phone: 608-625-2960 | FAX: 608-625-2962
kickapoo.reserve@krm.state.wi.us

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