Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A Discovery of an Indian Effigy Mound in the Lake View Community of Chicago, May Date Before 1,000 AD.

Effigy mounds are sacred burial places built by Indians between 800 AD and 1,000 AD. They are extensive earthworks made from soil, usually about 3 to 7 feet high, forming shapes that can be seen from overhead. Some look like bears, and others resemble lizards or turtles.

Map of American Indian trails and villages of Chicago and of Cook, DuPage, and Will counties in 1804 was drawn by Albert F. Scharf 1900, a surveyor and cartographer who took an interest in Chicago’s 19th-century geography.
We'll look for evidence that a lizard-shaped effigy mound existed in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood, who built it, and why it disappeared. The answers to these questions illustrate how racism among early archaeologists prevented them from getting to the bottom of the effigies’ origins.
Scharf’s map shows the text 'LIZARD' (an “Effigy Mound"), located in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood. Effigy mounds are large earthworks made from soil that form shapes that can be seen from overhead.
Archeologists haven’t confirmed the existence of the effigy mound in Lake View, but there is some archival evidence of its location. 

The Scharf map reconstructed a landscape that had been vastly transformed from an area with a few villages and trails to a major city with several outlying suburbs and roads. Scharf relied on accounts from Chicagoans old enough to remember the area before 1833.

His source for the location of the lizard effigy mound was likely an artist and amateur archaeologist named Carl Dilg, who was obsessed with Chicago’s archaeological history and on a personal quest to document the ancient sites of Chicago. As he wrote in a private letter, Dilg wanted to make sure Chicago’s history was not “smothered and killed.”
The Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) has an extensive collection of Dilg’s papers, including notes he made from dozens of excursions to archaeological sites around Chicago in the 1880s and 1890s. They contain multiple references to a mound in Lake View, which he referred to as a “lizard” or a “serpent.” Dilg made several sketches of artifacts found near the mound and a map of the area now known as Lake View, showing the exact location of the mound, which you can see on his map.
In Dilg's sketch of the side profile of the lizard mound,
he compares it to another archaeological site in California.
But Dilg didn’t include a precise description of the mound’s length, width, or makeup.

Still, there seems to be significant circumstantial evidence that he’d actually seen it. For one, his depiction of the mound shows the head facing south and the tail facing north, as though the creature was walking south. This is consistent with other water spirit effigies that archaeologists have found in places like Wisconsin. Dilg’s sketches and notes also show the lizard-shaped mound had another round-shaped mound built adjacent to or directly on the “lizard.” This is consistent with the Potawatomi burial practice: The Potawatomi typically constructed conical burial mounds on the site of older effigy mounds. Finally, effigy mounds have been documented as close to Chicago as Aurora, so it’s possible effigy builders’ could have made it to Chicago.

But we know that there’s no lizard mound in Lake View today, so if it did exist, then what happened to it?

About 15 years after Dilg made his sketches, Charles Brown, a distinguished archaeologist from Wisconsin, visited Chicago to review Dilg’s extensive work. Brown wrote about Dilg’s observations, including one sentence about the Lake View effigy mound:

“A ‘lizard mound’ of doubtful origin was located on Oakdale Avenue and Wellington Street, under the present elevated station,” Brown wrote.

Brown’s notes suggest there was some kind of mound that was probably destroyed by the construction of the elevated train line that eventually became the Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown-Line. His use of the phrase “of doubtful origin” suggests Brown, a leading expert on effigy mounds at the time, doubted the mound in Lake View was a true effigy mound like those 800 to 1,200-year-old mounds in Wisconsin.

But archaeologist Amy Rosebrough says Brown has “been known to be wrong.” Brown’s doubt may simply reflect his own disdain at Dilg’s amateur approach to archaeology or his belief that Chicago was not part of the effigy mound builders’ territory, Rosebrough says.

Without a more complete record, Rosebrough and other archaeologists cannot verify if the Lake View mound was an authentic effigy mound or merely a lump of earth that Dilg’s romantic imagination transformed into an ancient sculpture.

If we assume Dilg was correct and the Lake View mound was, in fact, the same kind of effigy mound found in Wisconsin, that raises another critical question that scholars and archaeologists have been asking for 200 years: Who built it?

Early American archaeologists believed the mounds may have been built by a mysterious “lost race” of “mound builders,” sometimes thought to be an earlier Native American civilization connected to Mayan, Aztec, or Incan cultures. Some have theorized the mound builders weren’t indigenous to the Americas, but instead, they were a lost tribe of Israel or a traveling culture, like the Phoenicians or Egyptians.

These hypotheses, which range from unlikely to absurd, reveal a bias common among white Americans in the 19th century: They didn’t believe contemporary groups like the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, or Ojibwe, who all lived in areas with effigy mounds, were sophisticated enough to build them.

Richard C Taylor, a writer who traveled through Wisconsin in the 1830s, was typical of the time. He wrote:

“But to a far different race, assuredly, and to a far different period, must we look when seeking to trace the authors of these singular mounds. … But who were they who left almost imperishable memorials on the soil, attesting to the superiority of their race?”

This prejudice made archaeologists slow to accept the idea that these mounds were built by the ancestors of the Indians who lived near the mounds. But eventually, beginning in the early 1900s, American archaeologists began a more deliberate effort to talk with Native Americans about effigy mounds. Charles Brown and Paul Radin, two Wisconsin-based archaeologists, documented extensive conversations with Ho-Chunk people (then known as the Winnebago tribe).

The current consensus among archaeologists is that the mounds were built by several tribes or groups who might have been closely related and treated mound building as a ceremony. Archaeologists believe the Ho-Chunk of Wisconsin is one of several tribal groups descended from people who built effigy mounds, including the Iowa and Winnebago of Nebraska.

Over the years, the Ho-Chunk have claimed to be the descendants of effigy mound builders. In an interview with the Portage Daily Register in 2016, Bill Quackenbush, the cultural resources officer for the Ho-Chunk, said he prefers not to explain the significance of the mounds to outsiders. He said people should try to appreciate the mounds rather than analyze and understand their exact meaning.  
Digging into effigy mounds was a popular pastime during the late 19th century.
“The culture we live in today and society 100 years ago, they tried to do that,” he said. “They dug through them, took screens out there, shook the dirt, and looked for every little piece of information found. They couldn't find what they were trying to get. They had a preconceived notion in their heads already.”

So early settlers destroyed hundreds if not thousands of ancient sculptures, along with the historical record. They plowed under mounds to farm the land or leveled them and built homes on the sites. In some cases, early settlers claimed to have asked local Native Americans about the origins of the mounds without receiving a clear answer.

John Low, a Potawatomi Indian, and professor of American Indian studies, says he’s suspicious of these accounts, given that they took place during a power struggle over land.

“The natives may have said that because they aren’t going to share with people, they regard as the enemy, the specialness they know about a site.” Or, Low suggests, the white settlers may have displayed selective memory.

“We may have been written out of the narrative,” he says. “If the knowledge the natives have about these sites had been transcribed, gosh, that sounds like the natives have more of a claim, and it sounds icky to walk them out to Kansas or Oklahoma.”

By the late 1800s, when Indians were no longer seen as a threat to westward expansion, white Americans became interested in many aspects of their culture, including effigy mounds. But that interest was not necessarily respectful, especially considering mounds often contain human remains, and archaeologists felt free to dig through burial sites and take home human remains for display. Amy Rosebrough describes the popular pastime of “mounding”:

“You take a family out on a picnic and give the kids a shovel and bucket, and they would dig into a mound and see what was there.”

Unless we find new evidence in an archive somewhere (perhaps missing pages from Carl Dilg’s manuscript), Lake View's “lizard effigy” will remain a mystery. That’s because so much of the historical record was lost when the mounds were destroyed, says scholar and Potawatomi Indian John Low. As a Native American, he feels like the destruction of the mounds represents a desecration and willful disrespect of his culture. But he also sees a universal human tragedy.

“It’s something we should all feel sad about when they’re lost,” he says. “Like when the acropolis is lost. Or the pyramids. Or Stonehenge is lost. These, too, are part of the human record of achievement. What a shame.”



  1. is there a mound in Dellwood park in Lockport, Illinois?

    1. There were a number of Indian Mounds uncovered in the early twentieth century at Dellwood Park in Joliet, Illinois and area.


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