Where to Explore Wisconsin’s Archeological History

Here are three archeological sites in Wisconsin where you can appreciate some 30,000 years of Native American culture, art and history. 

Petroglyphs and Pictographs at Roche-A-Cri State Park

1767 STATE HIGHWAY 13, FRIENDSHIP

While there are nearly 200 documented sites of Native carvings in Wisconsin, only one is publicly on display. That’s at Roche-A-Cri State Park. “Roche is cool because it has both petroglyphs and pictographs,” says Robert Boszhardt, co-author of Hidden Thunder: Rock Art of the Upper Midwest. “That’s rare and unusual, and it’s on this spectacular, isolated landform.” Petroglyphs are ancient carvings, made by digging into the rock, while pictographs are paintings made with a pigment. 

The markings at Roche-A-Cri depict a dramatic scene – a thunderbird striking a horned figure with a lightning bolt. William Quackenbush, a tribal historic preservation officer with Ho-Chunk Nation, notes the importance of respecting these sites. “When we see that another [petroglyph] is destroyed, well that’s one less opportunity that we have to perpetuate our culture,” he says. 

Ancient Aztalan Village at Aztalan State Park

N6200 COUNTY ROAD Q, JEFFERSON 

Between 1000 and 1200, this site in Jefferson County was a Late Woodland Native American town, the home of Mississippians who had migrated from what is now southern Illinois. In 1919, an extensive excavation revealed much of the original town. Portions of the wall that surrounded the village and the mounds have been reconstructed, and a line of original mounds marks the location of the village’s ceremonial complex, making it one of the best-preserved sites in the state. Grab a map and stroll the ancient paths on a self-guided walking tour.

A recreated village wall at Aztalan State Park; Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Effigy Mounds at Lizard Mound State Park

2121 COUNTY HIGHWAY A, WEST BEND 

Head to West Bend to see this site, home to 28 Native effigy mounds. One of the largest such sites, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The mounds were designed by Native Americans, who piled dirt on top of graves to create elevated shapes of animals and humans. Lizard Mound got its name from the striking panthers and water spirit designs, which 1800s-era settlers thought were lizards. “We work hard to protect and preserve these sites still because they are sacred to the Ho-Chunk people,” Quackenbush says. 


Native History: Museums 

Chippewa Valley Museum

1204 E. HALF MOON DR., EAU CLAIRE

The “Changing Currents” exhibit follows Ojibwe history from their first settlement through their displacement by European and Canadian settlers and up to the early 1900s.

George W. Brown Jr. Ojibwe Museum and Cultural Center

603 PEACE PIPE RD., LAC DU FLAMBEAU

This collection includes traditional Ojibwe clothing, birch bark canoes, Ojibwe art and a recreated French fur trading post.

Menominee Indian Tribe Cultural Museum and Logging Museum

W3426 COUNTY HIGHWAY VV, KESHENA

Chart the logging industry and its effect on Menominee culture at this museum, which includes traditionally built log cabins.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s August issue.

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.