• A quiet summer walk through the Marching Bear Group of effigy mounds

    Effigy Mounds

    National Monument Iowa

Effigy Moundbuilders

Effigy moundbuilding

Effigy Moundbuilding: This image is NOT available for use outside of the National Park Service.

NPS - Illustration

The Late Woodland Period (1400-750 B.P.) along the Upper Mississippi River and extending east to Lake Michigan is associated with the culture known today as the Effigy Moundbuilders. The construction of effigy mounds was a regional cultural phenomenon. Mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle, panther or water spirit are the most common images. Like earlier groups, the Effigy Moundbuilders continued to build conical mounds for burial purposes, but their burial sites lacked the trade goods of the preceding Middle Woodland Culture. The Effigy Moundbuilders also built linear or long rectangular mounds that were used for ceremonial purposes that remain a mystery. Some archeologists believe they were built to mark celestial events or seasonal observances. Others speculate they were constructed as territorial markers or as boundaries between groups.

The animal-shaped mounds remain the symbol of the Effigy Mounds Culture. Along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa and across the river in southwest Wisconsin, two major animal mound shapes seem to prevail: the bear and the bird. Near Lakes Michigan and Winnebago, water spirit earthworks—historically called turtle and panther mounds—are more common.

 
Cultural range map of effigy moundbuilders

The Range of the Effigy Mound Culture

The Effigy Mound Culture extends from Dubuque, Iowa, north into southeast Minnesota, across southern Wisconsin from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, and along the Wisconsin-Illinois boundary. The counties of Dubuque, Clayton, and Allamakee contain almost all the effigy mounds found in Iowa.

 
Effigy moundbuilding ceremony

Effigy Moundbuilding Ceremony

NPS - Illustration

What do the Effigy Mounds Represent?

Clues can be found in American Indian legends and mythology and to a lesser extent, scientific research. The stories and legends of the Native Americans whose ancestors built the mounds describe the effigy mounds as ceremonial and sacred sites. Archeologists believe the effigy mounds delineated territories of choice gathering and hunting grounds. Unfortunately, much of the data is inconclusive.

Present day American Indian tribes affiliated with Effigy Mounds National Monument include:

Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska

Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma

Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma

Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin

Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska

Upper Sioux Community of Minnesota

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community In the State of Minnesota

Lower Sioux Indian Community In the State of Minnesota

Prairie island Indian Community In the State of Minnesota

Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa

Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska

Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma

Did You Know?

Ellison Orr Map of Marching Bear Group - Effigy Mounds N.M. Collections

Ellison Orr was 92 years old when Effigy Mounds National Monument was dedicated. The Monument owes much to his accurate maps, and careful cataloguing of hundreds of sites and artifacts. Orr died in 1951, leaving most of his personal collection of manuscripts, artifacts, and samples to the monument.