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[graphic] Effigy Mounds National Monument

One of the largest groups of effigies still remaining at Effigy Mounds National Monument is the Marching Bear Mounds Group, which contains ten "bears," three "birds," and two linear mounds
NPS Photo, courtesy of Kenneth A. Block
Prehistoric mounds are common from the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard, but only in the upper Mississippi River valley was there a culture that specialized in ceremonial mouncalled effigies--representations of living creatures such as eagles, falcons, bison, deer, turtles, lizards, and, in particular, bears. Located in the northeastern part of Iowa, Effigy Mounds National Monument was established October 25, 1949. In May 27, 1961, further land was added to the monument by a law that mandated preservation of the mounds, wildlife, and other natural values. At the present time, 191 mounds are preserved within the monument, 29 of which are animal-shaped mounds. Fewer than ten percent of the estimated 10,000 mounds originally found in northeast Iowa still exist. Effigy Mounds National Monument gives visitors an opportunity to learn about an interesting prehistoric culture that lived in harmony with the natural world and built earthen mounds.

[photo] Little Bear Mound
NPS Photo

Eastern Woodland Indians built mounds from about 500 BC until the early European contact period. The landscape of the monument reveals evidence of a continuum of mound-building cultures and their relationships to the environment over a span of at least 1,800 years. Animal-shaped mounds were built only between 600 AD and 1300 AD. These mounds are effigies or images of the animals believed to be important to the people living here during that time.Circular fireplaces often found in the "heart" or "head" of the effigies were probably altars used during funeral rites--ceremonies of death through which the people may have sought to express their concern for the dead as well as for the survival of the still-living groups. The animal and bird shapes of the mounds probably had a mystical meaning somewhat associated with the self-identity of the groups that built them.

Upclose view of the Marching Bear Mounds Group
NPS Photo
The prehistoric Mound Builders and their environment were inextricably linked. The culture of the effigy Mound Builders was sustained by a unique association of climate, geology, topography, flora, and fauna that shaped the lifestyles and belief systems of these people. The mound-building cultures are associated with the eastern hardwood forest that extends across the eastern third of the continent. Natural features in the monument include forests, tallgrass prairies, wetlands and rivers. The monument’s varied landforms and habitats, characteristic of the non-glaciated “Driftless Area,” provide exceptional diversity of plant and animal species. These natural resources are important both for understanding past lifeways, which depended on them, and monitoring the health of present ecosystems.

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