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Only Remaining Human-Like Mound In North America Saved This Week In 1908

Vintage Wisconsin: Wisconsin Home To Unique Mound Building Culture

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Man Mound Park
Photo courtesy of Sauk County Historical Society

Man Mound, the only remaining human-shaped effigy mound in North America, was dedicated this week in Sauk County in 1908. The gigantic figure, more than 200 feet tall, depicts what is believed to the transformation of a human or shaman into a spirit.

Man Mound is one of thousands of burial and ceremonial mounds constructed by native peoples in the eastern and Midwestern United States centuries ago. Most of these, however, are conical mounds. Those built to look like animals, including the Serpent Mound in Ohio, are known as effigy mounds.

It was in Wisconsin, between 600 and 900, that the Late Woodland people took mound building to new heights, constructing thousands of effigy mounds in the shapes of animals like turtles and bears and spirits like thunderbirds.

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Man Mound was first “rediscovered” by civil engineer and local historian W.H. Canfield in 1859. He prepared a survey of the mound and shared it with Wisconsin’s first scientist and polymath Increase Lapham. Lapham was impressed, describing the discovery as “the most strange and extraordinary character of any yet brought to light.”

“The figure is no less than 214 feet in length, the head 30 feet long, the body 100, and the legs 84,” he continued. “The head lies toward the south and motion is westward. All of the lines of this most singular effigy are curved gracefully, and much care has been bestowed upon its construction.”

The owner of the land had no interest in the mound and intended to turn the ground over for farming. The legs of the Man Mound had already been cut off by farming and a road.

To protect the mound from further destruction, the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and the Sauk County Historical Society made plans to purchase the land for preservation. They led efforts along with the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs, particularly Lapham’s daughter Julia, to raise money to purchase the land surrounding Man Mound for $225.

Man Mound Park was dedicated Sept. 7, 1908. Man Mound was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1916.

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