One thing many people don’t know about me is that I was an anthropology major in college. While my university’s methodology was more of a social and cultural practice than archaeological, it’s something I’ve always had an interest in. So when I heard about the effigy mounds at Beloit College I was eager to learn more.
As you walk the college’s sprawling campus, you may notice the small patches of raised earth. But what is not immediately apparent is that these topographical features are actually remnants of the Native Americans who walked the land hundreds of years before. While some of the mounds are smaller and more easily missed, the campus has a number of fairly sizable mounds, including one shaped like a massive turtle. Over the years, many of the effigy mounds at Beloit College have been excavated and restored to help preserve the area’s history.
During my visit to campus I was lucky enough to get a quick tour and history lesson from Associate Professor Shannon Fie. Not only has Professor Fie spent years studying the prehistory of the Midwest but her students are also actively working to uncover more of the area’s past. During any given semester, groups of Beloit students are working on campus to excavate the mounds and their surrounding areas.
What is an Effigy Mound?
In the Midwest, these types of mounds generally served as burial mounds. However, an effigy mound typically refers to a mound built in the shape of an animal. Like the turtle mound on the Beloit College campus, animal mounds are believed to be associated with Native American spiritual symbology.
In many cases, effigy mounds are found in groups, and were built overlooking rivers, which is believed to be because of the spiritual significance water holds for many Native American tribes.
Sadly, during the 19th and 20th centuries, as many as 80 percent of Wisconsin’s effigy mounds were destroyed by development, according to Recollection Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Burial Sites Preservation Law was passed in the 1980s to help protect the remaining mounds. This law protects these types of mounds from destruction or disturbance of any kind. In fact, in order to do any sort of construction near these sacred mounds, individuals must get special permission from the state.
The Effigy Mounds at Beloit College
The effigy mounds at Beloit College are a prominent part of the campus’ history. In fact, the college’s largest effigy mound is one of the reasons the turtle is its unofficial mascot.
The 20 conical, linear, and animal effigy mounds on the Beloit College campus were built between 400 and 1200 AD. An early group of Native Americans—that may include ancestors of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) people—created these historical land masses.
As we wandered the campus, it was interesting to see how students interacted with the historic topography. The college works hard to instill a sense of appreciation for the mounds in its students. Both out of respect and to help preserve the mounds, the college encourages students not to walk or sit on them. But simply walking through campus and taking notice of these beautiful monuments is a history lesson in and of itself.
Another way to experience this unique piece of history is through the college’s on-campus Logan Museum of Anthropology. Here visitors can view artifacts found on campus as well as relics of note from around the region. The museum is open daily and gives visitors a glimpse at the area’s history. Another unique aspect of this museum is that many of the exhibitions are curated and presented by the college’s students.
To learn more about effigy mounds, check out these additional articles and helpful resources:
- Beloit College shares some great information about its specific mounds on the college’s website
- Recollection Wisconsin has a helpful article that explores effigy mounds across the state
- If you’re interested in visiting other effigy mounds, neighboring Iowa is home to Effigy Mounds National Monument
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! What do you know about effigy mounds? Have you ever seen these unique monuments?
Looking for more things to do in the Beloit region? Check out the other places I visited on my road trip.