Effigy Mounds
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Ellison Orr & Modern Archeological Studies at Effigy Mounds National Monument

One of the most important figures in the documentation of Iowa's effigy mounds was Ellison Orr. Born in 1857 near McGregor, Iowa, Orr worked as a schoolteacher, surveyor, and telephone systems manager while pursuing research in archeology, geology, botany, and ornithology. After retiring at the age of 73, Orr began a new career as an archeologist and spent the next 20 years conducting site surveys and excavations, and reporting his findings. In 1902, he completed his first surveys of mounds within the present boundaries of the monument. With help from his brother Harry, he mapped the Hanging Rock mounds at the north end of the present monument. Harry Orr measured and mapped the 19 conical mounds that Ellison named the Yellow River Mound Group Number 2, and the brothers surveyed and mapped the Waukon Junction Mound Group on the Paint Rock bluff top. In 1910, Ellison Orr mapped the Fish Farm Mound Group between Lansing and New Albin and began his first survey of the Pleasant Ridge Mound Group (Marching Bear Group) in what is now the monument's South Unit. [107]

During the 1920s, local archeology received a boost with the establishment of the Iowa Archeological Survey. In 1922, concerned over the increasing number of Iowa's mounds being destroyed, Dr. Charles Reuben Keyes, Professor of German literature at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, met with Benjamin Shambaugh, Director of the Iowa State Historical Society. Keyes proposed a survey of mounds and archeological sites in Iowa. As a result of this meeting, the Archeological Survey of the State of Iowa was formed, with Keyes serving as Iowa's first State Archaeologist. Due to a lack of funding, Keyes was unable to launch a concerted statewide survey until the 1930s, when he obtained funding through the Federal Emergency Relief Act and hired Ellison Orr as chief field supervisor. [108]

Marching Bear Mound Group
Aerial View of Southern Portion of Marching Bear Mound Group.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Beginning in 1934, Orr assisted Keyes as supervisor for the Iowa Archeological Survey. Orr conducted most of the survey work, while Keyes coordinated information submitted by the general public. Between 1934 and 1936, the two conducted extensive surveys and excavations along the Mississippi River in Allamakee and Clayton counties, funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Orr re-surveyed many of the mound sites discovered by Lewis and excavated numerous uninvestigated mounds, including one effigy. In 1935, Orr mapped the Pleasant Ridge Mound Group. That same year he compiled his findings into a list of all the mound forms he knew of in the two counties. His summary, which combined many of Lewis' findings, was the first attempt to treat Iowa mounds as a distinct entity, listing 21 complexes. Even after the Iowa Archeological Survey dissolved at the beginning of World War II, Orr remained active in archeology and the preservation of the existing mounds. [109]

Ellison Orr was 92 years old when Effigy Mounds National Monument was dedicated. The monument owes much to his scientific emphasis, 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. His large collection of manuscripts, including his correspondences with Dr. Charles Keyes, composes roughly 75 percent of the monument's archived literature. [110]

Ellison Orr Map of Pleasant Ridge (Marching Bear) Mound Group.
Courtesy of National Park Service

In 1947, prior to establishment of Effigy Mounds National Monument, Jesse Jennings, Regional Archeologist for NPS Region II, summarized the extent of effigy mound knowledge for the NPS. Jennings confirmed the boundaries of the Effigy Mound Culture defined earlier by Thomas, Keyes, and others. He stressed the connection between the mounds and burial practices and speculated on the similarities between Hopewell and Effigy Mound cultures. [111]

Jennings synthesized previous effigy mound studies and proposed a specific Effigy Mound research program, including documentary research in unpublished materials, such as the Hill-Lewis studies; laboratory research of excavated materials from mounds curated in regional collections; and rigidly controlled excavation of each specific mound style (conical, linear, and effigy). Jennings' proposal was never implemented, however, and effigy mound studies in Iowa have been largely confined to those conducted within the monument. [112]

In the early 1950s, NPS archeologist Paul Beaubien conducted excavations in the North Unit and at the Sny Magill complex. In the Great Bear Mound, he recovered a rock altar and large amounts of charcoal—approximately 1,000 years old—and rock. Beaubien also investigated two mounds along the ridge leading to Fire Point and found no artifacts or burial evidence. In 1952, in his summary report, he explained that northeast Iowa was a peripheral area for both Hopewell and later Effigy Mound cultures and disclosed the existence of Effigy Mound and Hopewell artifacts within the same complex. Beaubien interpreted this as representing a fusion of cultures. "Northeastern Iowa," he wrote, "is clearly marginal to the primary growth of both cultures and it is not evident that a 'pure' complex of either has been strongly developed in this region." [113] Beaubien's excavations were the most extensive since the monument's establishment. Further contributing to the archeological record of northeast Iowa, Beaubien was able to secure Ellison Orr's manuscripts, which are now housed in the monument's archives. [114]

In 1958, Wilfred Logan, Beaubien's successor and the first archeologist stationed at Effigy Mounds National Monument, undertook an intensive analysis of northeastern Woodland cultures. From 1951 to 1956, he completed several excavations outside the monument. One major project was his excavation of Mound 33, the last conical mound in the chain of mounds leading to Fire Point—a site Orr had excavated in 1931 after a vandal dug there. Orr found evidence of a single extended burial and a bundle of bone awls, and also recorded evidence of a layer of charred clay deposited on the mound. Logan conducted additional excavations, and determined that the mound contained at least six and possibly eight burials. These burials represented a variety of practices, including extended burials, bundle burials, and cremations, and contained both adults and children. [115]

Recovered artifacts found with the burials dated from the Middle Woodland and included a copper breastplate, copper beads, clamshells, a mica sheet, and a pearl bead, as well as a vandal's shovel. Most important, perhaps, was the charred red-colored clay. Logan noted that Orr had excavated a mound near Waukon Junction in 1932 that contained similar charred clay. Orr believed that both the human remains and the charred clay had been carried to the top of the bluff and deposited on the mound. After finding little evidence of charcoal in Mound 33, Logan surmised that the cremations were not carried out at the mound site. Logan's research expanded on Orr's work by providing technical ceramic classifications that linked pottery found in northeast Iowa with types found east of the Mississippi River. By conducting a detailed examination and classification of pottery and other artifacts, he developed a comparative analysis of cultures. Logan's studies were important in preparing a foundation for more integrated cultural studies in the area, including the monument. In 1956, Logan transferred to Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia. In his guide to Effigy Mounds National Monument, Lenzendorf discusses Logan's contribution to the monument. "His legacy at Effigy Mounds National Monument was the development of an interpretive program for this archeological site and appreciation of the chronology and rich heritage of the prehistoric cultures that occupied the site for almost 2,000 years." [116]

Logan also excavated several rockshelter sites both inside and outside the monument in the 1950s, including the Highway 76 Rockshelter (called Highway 13 Rockshelter at the time), where he recovered human bone, faunal remains, projectile points, fire-cracked rock, shell, and cord-impressed pottery sherds, including one restored pot. [117] National Park Service archaeologist Robert Petersen revisited this and several other rockshelter sites within the monument and conducted limited excavations, noting similar artifacts as recovered by Logan. [118]

Additional research efforts during this period included a joint project between the State Archaeologist of Iowa and the NPS to study the mounds in the South Unit. Through this project, organized in 1960, James P. Anderson of Iowa State University received a contract to map, survey, and report on the condition of the mounds as part of a program to rehabilitate them and eventually open the area to the public. Anderson's survey of the Marching Bear mounds found them in good condition. [119]

Meanwhile, a growing debate over mound excavations and their effects on the integrity of mounds and burials developed at Effigy Mounds National Monument and within the NPS. National Park Service personnel expressed concern about the long-term preservation of the mounds. Some mounds damaged in the past by the collection of artifacts and removal of burials required rehabilitation. In 1957, Regional Chief of Interpretation H. Raymond Gregg wrote to Superintendent Walter Barrett, questioning the practice of mound excavations within the monument. Gregg advised Regional Director Howard Baker that the excavations should be stopped, explaining that sufficient artifacts were already available for display. In 1959, Baker established a policy against further destructive investigations of the mounds in the future only non-destructive testing would be allowed. [120]

In the 1960s, an important archeological site was discovered adjacent to the monument and investigations of this site continued through the 1980s. Located between the monument's headquarters and the Mississippi River, on land owned by the state of Iowa, the FTD site is a village site dating from the contact period back perhaps to the late Archaic. It is one of only two known effigy mound villages in the United States. Effigy Mounds archeologist Garland Gordon discovered and tested the FTD site in 1963. The site extends for more than 1,500 feet along the river. Borrow pits used in the construction of the elevated Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad significantly impinged upon the site. These borrow pits are now ponds. [121]

In 1975, archeologists David Benn and Dean Thompson of Luther College investigated the FTD site, which was exposed due to unusually low river levels. Benn and Thompson submitted a copy of their preliminary report to the State Historic Preservation Office and the St. Paul District of the Corps of Engineers. In 1980, low water levels exposed additional parts of the site enabling surface collections to occur. The following year, the Corps of Engineers constructed a rock dike offshore to slow erosion of the site. [122]

During this period, increasing attention was placed on mound preservation, building on the mound rehabilitation efforts that began in the 1960s. Mound preservation became a top priority within the monument, and National Park Service personnel investigated various ground covers in an attempt to control erosion, especially for mounds with depressions. Gordon, who discovered the FTD site, supervised mound rehabilitation in the South Unit in 1961, and in the North Unit in 1965. In both units, particularly the South, oak wilt had killed many of the red oaks around the mounds. Workers cut down trees and removed stumps, using a mechanical stump remover to minimize impact to the mounds. They then filled and reshaped the areas. Grass seed was spread on the mounds to prevent erosion and facilitate mowing. [123]

Mound restoration efforts continued in the 1970s. In 1971, Paul Schumacher, chief of archeological investigations for the Western Service Center in Denver, met with Wilfred Husted of the Midwest Archeological Center and Thomas Munson, superintendent of the monument, to discuss these efforts. The meeting resulted in two important decisions. First, it was decided that only leaves and debris would be removed from the vandal pits that existed on some mounds. These pits would be then lined with plastic and, if possible, backfilled with the dirt removed from the mound. This approach would allow researchers to examine the dirt for artifacts and remains before it was replaced. Second, it was determined that small trees and brush should be removed from the mounds since their roots endangered both the structural integrity of the mounds and threatened any burials within the mounds. Over the next decade workers removed many trees. [124]

In 1978, James Mount, a park ranger and archeologist at Effigy Mounds National Monument, summarized the status of mounds research up to that date. Of the 191 known mounds, archeologists had investigated 55, of which they had cleaned and rehabilitated 20. A total of 17 mounds had been formally excavated. Unfortunately, more than half the mounds had suffered various degrees of damage from pothunters and agricultural activities. Mount found that as many as 60 mounds had possibly been destroyed on the Nazekaw Terrace, and at least three more had been obliterated in a North Unit field. [125]

In addition to restoration work, the 1970s also marked the start of Luther College's project to photograph mounds in the area. In 1974, Associate Professor of Anthropology, R. Clark Mallam, and staff from the Luther College Archaeological Research Center initiated an aerial survey of regional effigy mounds in an effort to visually document remaining mounds in plats and photographs. The aerial survey was seen as an important objective of a broader series of mound research begun by Luther College five years earlier. Early photographic efforts, with photographs taken from ground level, had proved disappointing. Because of their low relief, the mounds could not consistently be distinguished from the surrounding landscape or conveyed with full integrity. Mallam came up with the idea of using agricultural lime to outline the mounds for aerial photography. The inexpensive white lime outlined the mounds so that they stood in stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation. [126]

The Luther College Archaeological Research Center tested their system on a dozen mounds at Capoli Bluff near Lansing, Iowa, in 1974. The survey crew carted a total of 1,250 pounds of lime to the sites, depositing the material along the mound edges in six-inch-wide bands, which proved not wide enough to adequately outline the mounds for photography. [127]

In November 1974, the Archaeological Research Center conducted a second aerial experiment. They targeted the Marching Bear Group, consisting of fifteen various effigy mounds, in the South Unit of the monument. The crew outlined the mounds with 16-inch wide bands of limestone, using over 5,000 pounds of lime, in a process that required nearly four hours. Two photographers captured the Marching Bear effigies on film from altitudes that varied from 300 to 2,000 feet. The results of the experiment, in terms of both procedural efficiency and photographic results, exceeded expectations. [128]

Little Bear Effigy Mound
Outlined Little Bear Effigy Mound.
Courtesy of National Park Service

In November 1978, the Archaeological Research Center conducted another aerial photographic survey at the monument, this time capturing the 91 mounds located within the North and South Units. Due to the size of the project, the survey was carried out in two distinct phases—one day for preparing the mounds with lime and another for the aerial photography. The results of the survey were as successful as the 1974 experiment. [129] In 1980, students led by Mallam worked with monument staff to produce the first aerial photographs of the Sny Magill mounds. Mallam's photos revealed 97 mounds, more than had been reported by earlier researchers. [130]

Recently, monument staff have experimented with new techniques for photographing the low-relief mounds without using lime. One technique involves allowing the vegetation on the mounds to grow throughout the summer, and then mowing the vegetation very short in autumn. The mounds stand out in vibrant green against the leaf-covered forest floor. Leaves are mulched and scattered around the mounds to accentuate the color contrast. A new series of aerial photos of the mounds using this technique is currently in process. [131]

Non-destructive studies at the monument continued with Bruce Bevan's 1982 ground penetrating radar survey of the Little Bear effigy (Mound 52). In addition to noting varying levels of soil complexity within the mound, Bevan observed an interesting planar feature measuring 4 by 8 feet within the head of the Little Bear. Bevan did not attempt to interpret the purpose or meaning of the oval-shaped feature. [132]

In 1987 and 1988 the National Park Service's Midwest Archaeological Center conducted fieldwork at the Sny Magill Unit. Janice Dial led the project and focused on gathering baseline data on the condition of the mounds, with the goal of long-term preservation of the site. Early site maps were compared to recent photogrammetric and transit maps to resolve inconsistencies in the geographical arrangement of the mounds. In addition, several mound-like features were recorded between known mounds. One of these features is believed to represent a burial mound and was designated Mound 97. [133]

Luther College conducted an archeological field school at the Sny Magill Unit in 1988. One of the goals of the field school was to examine the area around Mound 43, where Paul Beaubien encountered extensive red hematite layers during his 1952 excavations. [134] Dale Henning directed the students' exploratory excavations and established a testing grid east and west of Mound 43, which yielded only a few stone flakes and clam shell fragments. In addition, the students excavated a single test unit in each of four nearby Late Woodland rockshelter sites (sites 13AM263, 13AM267, 13CT230, and 13CT226). Artifacts recovered from the rockshelters were limited to stone flakes, split bone fragments, and a few pottery sherds. [135]

In 1993, John Staeck directed a Luther College archaeological field school at the Red House Landing site. The students conducted surface and subsurface testing at the predominantly historic-period site; however, little evidence of occupation remains beyond a limestone house foundation, a root cellar, and another depression. A complete report synthesizing the findings from the archaeological field school has not been written to date. [136]

Picking up where Bruce Bevan left off, the National Park Service conducted a five-day geophysical workshop at the monument in May 1999, entitled "Recent Advances in Archeological Prospection Techniques." The forty attendees included archeologists from various state and government agencies, universities, and cultural resource management firms. Instruction was provided in the use of geophysical and electronic survey equipment, such as ground penetrating radar, global positioning system units, magnetometers, and other specialized, non-destructive tools. Geophysical investigations were conducted on the Little Bear effigy mound (Mound 52), the Great Bear Mound (Mound 31), a bird effigy mound (Mound 82), a conical mound (Mound 45), and a linear mound group (Mounds 19 and 20). [137] Results of the geophysical surveys showed that the mounds are highly magnetic and often "clumpy." Ken Kvamme suggests that the clumpiness represents clusters of basket loads of soil and may also indicate multiple building episodes. [138]

Magnetic Image of Bear Effigy Mound
Magnetic Image of Bear Effigy Mound.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Ongoing Research at Effigy Mounds National Monument

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) requires federal agencies and museums that have received federal funding to repatriate American Indian ancestral remains and cultural items to tribes that can show genetic or cultural affiliation with such remains and items. In addition, NAGPRA regulates excavation of such remains and items on federal and Indian land. [139] In advance of NAGPRA consultation, a collections management plan was produced for the monument to formally examine the archived collections. [140] Effigy Mounds National Monument Superintendent Karin Gustin met with a representative of the Nebraska Winnebagoes for NAGPRA-related consultation during the early to mid-1990s. [141] Since 2000, the National Park Service has been involved in NAGPRA-related consultation with American Indian tribes. An initial NAGPRA report with recommendations was completed for the monument in 1998 by Dale Henning, followed in 2001 by Green and others' comprehensive cultural affiliation study, in which the authors concluded that a definitive cultural affiliation with regional and contact-period American Indian tribes is extremely difficult to extend back to the period when the mounds were constructed. At present, NAGPRA consultation is ongoing at Effigy Mounds National Monument. [142]

The National Park Service is planning to conduct a Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI) at the monument in 2004. The CLI is a comprehensive inventory of cultural landscapes that ultimately will aid park managers in planning, programming, and recording treatment and management decisions. In advance of the CLI at Effigy Mounds National Monument, Roberta Young, Inventory Coordinator for the National Park Service's Midwest Regional Office, prepared an updated List of Classified Structures (LCS). The current LCS includes the mounds and the Old Military Road with related cistern. Additional features that likely will be included in the CLI are lumber roads, rock shelters, the Jefferson Davis Sawmill, Red House Landing, agricultural era remnants, and the York's Landing site. [143]

Effigy Mounds National Monument preserves an important part of our nation's prehistory. By the 1990s, one archeologist reported that at least 80 percent of the mounds documented during the late-nineteenth century in northeast Iowa had been destroyed by vandalism, erosion, timber operations, and development. [144] Without federal protection, there is little hope that these landscape features will continue to survive and afford researchers an opportunity to uncover their fascinating stories. Since the first studies in the early 1800s, archeologists have surveyed, mapped, and catalogued mounds in Iowa and the entire Mississippi Valley region. Archeological studies have significantly increased our knowledge of the location and extent of the mounds, as well as chronicling the loss of these resources over time. Many questions, however, remain unanswered. Why did the mound builders create these effigies? Who was meant to see them, since they are seen most clearly when viewed from above? These questions persist, sparking our imagination and compelling further archeological research. Fortunately, places such as Effigy Mounds National Monument promise to protect these objects, allowing us the opportunity to continue our quest for answers and appreciate the mysteries of an ancient culture.

map map
Effigy Mounds National Monument: Cultural Resource Base Map, North Unit.
Courtesy of National Park Service (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
Effigy Mounds National Monument: Cultural Resource Base Map, South Unit.
Courtesy of National Park Service (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
map map
Effigy Mounds National Monument: Cultural Resource Base Map, Heritage Unit.
Courtesy of National Park Service (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
Effigy Mounds National Monument: Cultural Resource Base Map, Sny Magill Unit.
Courtesy of National Park Service (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 08-Oct-2003