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Town of Delavan to dedicate burial mound

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Kayla Bunge
October 3, 2008
— Decades of farming, construction and urban development destroyed all but one of the ancient American Indian burial mounds constructed near Delavan Lake hundreds of years ago.

“People tended to see them as things that got in the way,” said Amy Rosebrough, an archaeologist in the historic preservation and public history division of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


The town of Delavan will dedicate the mound at the first-ever Native American Heritage Day on Saturday at Community Park at the intersection of Highway 50 and South Shore Drive.


Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi elders will conduct a drum and song ceremony in the mid-morning to dedicate the mound and honor their ancestors. American Indian artifacts, arts and crafts will be on display. Elders and other tribal members will be on hand to share their culture and history.


“We’re trying to develop it into an educational session for the people of Delavan,” park director Steve Shoff said.


Organizers have plans to make the celebration an annual event.


The idea for Native American Heritage Day came from a letter the town received in August 2007, Shoff said. The letter from the Wisconsin Historical Society said there is a burial mound in Community Park and the town is responsible for preserving it.


Shoff, who said he’s been interested in American Indian culture since he was a boy, said the notice from the historical society renewed his interest.


“I thought it was something to bring forth for the people of the area to know about,” he said.


Mound was one of three

The Wisconsin Historical Society has been working to identify, record and catalog burial sites, including mounds, to protect them from disturbance or destruction, Rosebrough said. A state law enacted in 1985 protects burial sites, she said.


The conical, or dome-shaped, mound was one of three mounds identified in 1924 by archaeologist Charles E. Brown. The others were effigy mounds, one shaped like a bird and the other shaped like a cigar.


Brown called them the “inlet mound group” because of their proximity to the Delavan Lake inlet, Rosebrough said.


A 1976 land survey by the Walworth County Metropolitan Sewerage District showed only the conical mound remained.


Rosebrough said conical mounds are “notoriously hard to date” because American Indians built them for hundreds of years, dating to perhaps as early as 500 B.C. to as late as the 1800s, when the native people made contact with the first white settlers.


But the presence of the effigy mounds nearby dates the mound to the Late Woodland stage, from 700 to 1300 A.D., Rosebrough said.


The people of the Woodland period lived in small communities. They survived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. But two innovations, the bow and arrow and corn horticulture, changed their pattern of living and marked the start of the Late Woodland stage.


Within just a couple hundred years, effigy mound culture emerged, Rosebrough said, named for the distinctive burial mounds they constructed. Some effigies are shaped like birds, bears or deer; others are abstract.


By 900 A.D., some communities began to settle in more permanent villages, and from such settled communities emerged new social, economic and religious systems.


Rosebrough said the culture shift likely is the reason American Indians stopped constructing burial mounds.


Archaeologists haven’t been able to link modern tribes to the ancient mounds, she said, but the Ho-Chunk believe their ancestors built them.


The mound in Community Park is but one of many ancient burial mounds on the shores of Delavan Lake.


According to a survey conducted by Beloit College in the late 1800s, more than 200 mounds were constructed on the shores of Delavan Lake. Many were along the north shore of the lake, where Lake Lawn Resort now stands.


IF YOU GO
What: Town of Delavan Native American Heritage Day
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday.
Where: Community Park, Highway 50 and South Shore Drive, Delavan Township.
Information: (262) 740-2335

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