Beloit College is located on archaeological site RO-15 (the 15th designated archaeological site in Rock County), which is comprised of 24 Indian mounds of conical, linear, and effigy types (Lange and Kristensen). This tour covers the excavation history at the college, as well as some of the legal and ethical issues that surround the archaeological excavation of Indian Mounds in Wisconsin. Out of respect for the people buried here and to prevent soil erosion, please do not walk over the mounds. Additionally, if you happen to see any artifacts, please do not pick them up.
This tour is structured chronologically, beginning with the earliest known excavation on campus. Since there is little documentation of the early excavations on campus, the majority of the history covered occurs from the early 1940’s to the late 1960’s, focusing on systematically excavated mounds that were part of the Anthropology 210 class exercise.
The mounds on the Beloit College Campus were most likely constructed by peoples between 400-700 A.D., a time period spanning the Middle and Late Woodland Cultures. These peoples most likely were an advanced hunter-gatherer society, and probably began to integrate domesticated plants like corn and beans into their diets around 500 A.D. These mounds were built in many cases for burial, but may have also been used for ceremonial and religious practices. (For more information on the identity and nature of these peoples, be sure to attend Bill Green’s tour “Who built the Indian Mounds and why?” which normally occurs during Beloit Heritage Days.)
Starting as early as 100 B.C., Native American peoples had begun to create earthen architecture across the country for burial, ceremonial, and possibly protective purposes. Estimates of as many as 100,000 mounds in the eastern United States lead early settlers to create a fictionalized race of “Mound-builders” to describe their then unknown creators.
Though little was known about the mounds at the time of Beloit College’s founding in 1846, pot hunting, farming, and development threatened the existence of mounds throughout the U.S (Bey). Ralph Emerson, father of Classics Professor Joseph Emerson, recognized their value to future generations in a letter to his son in 1857. This letter promoted the conservation of the mound, promising $100 (now ~$2,500) to the college should the mound be restored (Emerson). While this document records the excavation of the mound in question, we can only speculate at this time about the location, as a mound numbering system had yet to be devised.