The Mystery Effigy
In Wisconsin, United States
Size:  (not chosen)
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The listed coordinates take you to a small public wayside along highway 35, where you will see a mystery effigy on the bluff if you look north. The effigy is on private property, and cannot be visited, but you can get an excellent view of the entire effigy from this point.
Perhaps the effigy was used as a navigation aid, for earlier travelers, hundreds of years ago, and was meant to be viewed from along this natural route along the river.
The geological features of the Mississippi Valley here accounts for the presence of a wide variety of effigy and mounds, all along the river. The river was the natural highway used by the mounds builders, as they traveled throughout the Midwest, and many examples of effigy building can be found along the river. This effigy is the largest, and the most mysterious.
Study of the effigy reveals evidence of a continuum of mound-building cultures and their relationships to the environment and geological features that span at least 1,800 years. The area here, along with Lake Pepin to the south and west and the bluffs to the north and east is characteristic of the non-glaciated “Driftless Area.” The Driftless area provides exceptional diversity of plant and animal species.
The "Bow and Arrow" effigy lies in a geologically unique area of erosional topography drained by an intricate system of rivers and streams. Erosional forces from melting glacial waters to the north, have cut through a plain leaving high divides and precipitous bluffs towering up to 500 feet above the river. The effigy is placed on one of these high bluffs, along the natural travel route, likely used by the Mounds Builders
Five hundred million years ago warm shallow seas covered the area that was to become this part of Wisconsin. The seas laid down layer upon layer of sediments, shells from marine organisms, and lime deposits. As the seas advanced and retreated, the varying ocean depths deposited different types of sediment; limestone in the deeper areas and sand in shallow and shoreline areas.
During the Ice Age, this area was part of the "driftless area” and was left unscathed by the advance and retreat of the continental ice sheets for a million years. Although glaciers did not directly affect the area, their melt waters carved out the Mississippi River Valley, and formed the high bluffs that you see here.
The rock outline you see on the distant bluff is an archeological curiosity. Jacob V. Brower, a Minnesota archeologist, observed this formation in 1902 and interpreted it as a bow and arrow. In 1903 he wrote, "Some of the stones representing the bowstring are displaced. The intention seems to have been to represent a bow and arrow drawn to shoot toward Lake Pepin."
Modern archeologists think the boulders may form a bird effigy, but no one has reached a definite conclusion. Although it is an old, well-known landmark, perhaps even ancient, its origin and age are unknown and it is no part of the Indian lore in this region. Boulder alignments made by Indians exist in other states, but this is the only one known in Wisconsin. Was it made by Indians? Is it a bow and arrow or a bird? It remains a mystery.
What we do know is that, foror many thousands of years Wisconsin's inhabitants survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Each community moved often, traveling to places where food could be found in abundance. Springs and summers were spent in river valleys and near lakes. During cold weather, families separated from one another and moved into sheltered upland valleys. As the years passed, complex social and religious systems appeared, evolved, and vanished, leaving the basic pattern of life unchanged.
Between 700 BC and AD 0, pottery, domesticated plants, and the practice of building earthen burial mounds were introduced to Wisconsin. These changes marked the beginning of the Woodland Tradition (500 BC to ca. AD 1300). Still, patterns of living remained relatively stable until the beginning of the Late Woodland stage, between AD 600 and AD 900. Two important innovations -- the bow and arrow and corn horticulture -- swept across the region.
Within a span of only a couple centuries, a new and distinctive culture that archaeologists call "Effigy Mound" arose in Wisconsin. The culture is named for the distinctive burial mounds constructed by communities across the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin. Some effigies are recognizable as birds, animals such as bear or deer, spirit animals, or people. Other mounds are abstract, including long linear embankments or combinations of embankments with the dome-shaped mounds favored by earlier peoples.
Archaeologists believe Effigy Mound communities were egalitarian, as no evidence has been found for long-distance trade in exotic, valuable, or ritual items or for differential burial of possessions indicating rank or status. The effigy mound builders usually buried their dead in small pits or laid them on carefully prepared surfaces. The effigy mounds were then built over them like grave markers. Sometimes a humble object such as a cooking pot or an arrow was included in the mound, but more often no grave goods were left behind at all.
Some archaeologists and Native Americans also believe that the effigy mounds symbolized spirits of the sky, earth, and water. According to this premise each mound group was a picture of the Late Woodland universe, sculpted out of earth. In the period after European contact, many of the same animals were associated with important clans, or groups of related families. These clans may have existed a thousand years ago. By building the mounds together, the social and religious ties binding the mobile and sometimes scattered communities would have been reinforced.
During this time, community members also began to cooperate with each other to harvest corn, prepare fields, and process wild nuts, fish, and mussels for winter storage. These surpluses, and the ease with which individuals could hunt using bows and arrows tipped with triangular stone points, fueled a rise in population and reduced the need to move from place to place. Oval and keyhole-shaped pole-frame wigwams, some partly sunk into the ground, were built. Pottery became thinner and more fragile but also more efficient at transferring heat from cooking fires to the food inside. Many pots were decorated by pressing twisted fiber cords into the wet clay, creating elaborate designs.
The mounds and effigies puzzled early white settlers, who were reluctant to accept that American Indians were their creators. For most of the nineteenth century the question of who built the mounds was debated in the press with more energy than judgement. In the late 1840's Wisconsin scientist Increase Lapham spent several years mapping and investigating effigy mounds for a monograph issued by the Smithsonian Institution. Finally, in 1894, an exhaustive survey proved beyond reasonable doubt that earlier Native Americans were indeed the people who had created the mounds.
REQUIREMENTS TO LOG THIS CACHE:
1. Look at the very large effigy on the bluffside and calculate to the best of your ability the total length of the effigy. Hint: The elevation of the top of the bluff is 1020 feet, and you can get your current elevation off of your GPS.
2. Email me your calculation of the length of the effigy, from top to bottom.
3. When logging the cache, share your views of what the effigy actually is, and it's origins.
4. A photo of your team is NOT required to log this cache, but is appreciated.
If you are interested in more information on the geology of the unglaciated area around Lake Pepin and want to know more about how melting ice from the last Ice Age formed the bluffs here, please see my Earthcache, GC13KMR.
If you are interested in more information on how the geology of the Mississippi Valley impacted the culture of the mounds builders, please visit Trekkin' and Birdin's Earthcache, GC19697.
(No hints available.)
Last Updated: on 9/17/2014 1:43:06 PM Pacific Daylight Time (8:43 PM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum