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An aerial view of Man Mound, 2014.

Man Mound, Wisconsin: The Last Anthropomorphic Mound in North America

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Man Mound (known also as the ‘Greenfield Man Mound’) is the name of a prehistoric earthwork located in the state of Wisconsin, USA. As its name suggests, this earthwork has a humanoid shape. The construction of the Man Mound has been attributed to the ‘Mound Builder’ culture, an umbrella term used to denote various Native American cultures that were involved in the construction of earthen mounds. One of the unique features of the Man Mound is the fact that it is today the only known surviving human-shaped earthwork in North America.

The Last Man Mound

Man Mound is situated in Greenfield, Sauk County, Wisconsin, USA. The effigy of Man Mound, which has a length of 65 m, depicts a “horned humanoid figure, feet to the north and head to the south, walking towards the west”. Part of this earthwork has been damaged. A paved rural road cuts across the lower legs of the effigy, whilst its feet have been worn down to the ground level as a result of bovine trampling (the feet had been in a cow pasture). Today, these missing portions are represented by white paint on the road, and white plastic cut-outs of feet in the pasture.

The Man Mound, 2010, Greenfield, Sauk County, Wisconsin, USA

The Man Mound, 2010, Greenfield, Sauk County, Wisconsin, USA ( Sauk County Historical Society )

Apart from that, the rest of Man Mound has been well-preserved. Arguably the most fascinating part of this humanoid figure is its head, where one would be able to distinguish a pair of ‘horns’. According to one interpretation, this is an indication that the figure may be a shaman, as the horns could have formed part of his headdress. Alternatively, the figure could be a Native American hero-deity who came to the earth to combat evil spirits and monsters.

Man Mound is estimated to have been built during the Late Woodland Period, which lasted between around AD 750 and 1200 AD. During this period in the southern part of Wisconsin, some Native American communities began building monumental earthworks. Most of these constructions were zoomorphic in design, i.e. made to represent animals, including birds, serpents and bears. Anthropomorphic earthen mounds, on the other hand, seemed to have been much rarer. At one point of time, several other humanoid mounds were also known, these have since been lost, and thus leaving the Man Mound as the only surviving anthropomorphic earthen mound in North America that is known today.

Barely Preserved

Man Mound was ‘discovered’ and surveyed in 1859 by William Canfield. A further survey on earthen mounds in Wisconsin was carried out during the late 19 th century. It was during those surveys that the other humanoid mounds were uncovered. The results of the survey were planned to be published in monographs. The unexpected death of the survey’s patron brought the project to a sudden end, and the Man Mound vanished once more into obscurity.

It was only in 1905 that the Man Mound was re-located by Harry E. Cole, and Arlow B. Stout, both of whom were local residents and members of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society. By that time, the Man Mound Road had been built, destroying the effigy’s lower legs. Nevertheless, it was fortunate that the re-discovery was made at that time, as the pair learned from the landowner, Alba Hoege, that he was about to destroy the rest of the Man Mound, and to begin cultivation of the land.  

Dedication of Man Mound Park in 1908,

Dedication of Man Mound Park in 1908, ( Sauk County Historical Society )

This prompted Stout to purchase an option on the land surrounding the effigy. Funds were shortly raised, and the site was purchased. In 1908, the Man Mound Park was dedicated. As the Man Mound is located within a county park, it has been protected by the law. In 1978, Man Mound was added to the register of national historic places. Furthermore, in 2016, Man Mound was designated as one of ten new National Historic Landmarks. It has been remarked that whilst Man Mound is well-protected today, the same cannot be said for many of the other earthen mounds in Wisconsin. It is hoped that Man Mound’s new status as a National Historic Landmark will raise awareness about other Native American earthworks in the state.

Top image: An aerial view of Man Mound, 2014. Photo source: Sauk County Historical Society .

By Wu Mingren

References

Daley, J., 2016. Get to Know Man Mound, One of 10 New National Historical Landmarks. [Online]
Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/get-to-know-man-mound-one-10-new-national-historical-landmarks-180961062/

National Historic Landmark Nomination, 2015. Man Mound: Draft Nomination. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nps.gov/nhl/news/LC/fall2015/ManMound.pdf

Office of the Secretary, 2016. Secretary Jewell, Director Jarvis Announce 10 New National Historic Landmarks Illustrating America's Diverse History, Culture. [Online]
Available at: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-director-jarvis-announce-10-new-national-historic-landmarks

Prinsen, J., 2016. Mysteries of Man Mound draw national attention. [Online]
Available at: http://www.wiscnews.com/baraboonewsrepublic/news/local/article_904756fb-11f7-5c4b-bfeb-4835f0cef753.html

Sauk County Historical Society, 2017. Man Mound Park. [Online]
Available at: http://www.saukcountyhistory.org/parkssitesmenu/manmoundpark.html

Taylor, S. J., 2017. Man Mound. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/man-mound

www.wisconsinmounds.com, 2017. Man Mound. [Online]
Available at: http://www.wisconsinmounds.com/ManMound.html

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