Effigy Mounds

Long before Forest Hill became Madison’s premier romantic cemetery, a very different form of burial was practiced on the land upon which the cemetery now stands. Within the Forest Hill Cemetery grounds are several Native American effigy mounds. These mounds remind us that land on which Forest Hill Cemetery sits was a sacred space long before the establishment of Madison. The effigy mounds are physical reminders of the ways in which the places we inhabit today have meanings that reach across groups and through time.

In this section you can explore the effigy mounds in Forest Hill Cemetery and in the greater Madison area as well. Each of the three sections presents the mounds in a different way. In “History of the Mounds” you will find the background information necessary to understand what the effigy mounds are and what they have meant within Wisconsin’s history. “Reading the Mounds” is designed to function as a field guide. Using Forest Hill Cemetery as an example, it provides information about the meanings, forms, and alignment of the various mounds you will encounter in Madison. Finally, the section “Visiting the Mounds” contains short entries for many of Madison’s famous mound groups. Armed with these guides, we hope that you will take the opportunity to visit some of Madison’s oldest and most valuable sacred spaces.

History of the Mounds

What are the Effigy Mounds? Effigy mounds were built between the years 700 and 1200 C.E., by Native Americans during the Late Woodland period. While mounds were built on land that is now part of Wisconsin previous to the Late Woodland period, these earlier mounds tended to be conical or geometric. They were not effigy mounds, […]

Reading the Mounds

The Cosmology of the Mounds “If the mounds represent change in one sense, they also represent cultural continuity in another. For Native Americans, the mounds are eternally sacred places, the graves of ancestors, that connect them to the land and supernatural. But the mounds have also become highly visible and powerful symbols of the persistence […]

Visiting the Mounds

Madison is a wonderful place for visiting effigy mounds. The mound groupings around Madison are classified as the Four Lakes mound system. The Four Lakes lies at the junction between mound systems, meaning that mounds of all shapes and types can be found in Madison. Upper World mounds in the shape of various birds, Lower […]