Aztalan State Park, Wisconsin

Aztalan is a prehistoric Native American archaeological site that is incorporated into Aztalan State Park located in southeastern Wisconsin. Archaeological evidence indicates that this was a stockaded village site, occupied between 1100-1300 AD. It is the largest site of its kind in Wisconsin, and is considered to be the northernmost extension of the Middle Mississippian culture group. In other words, attributes of this site were influenced by or similar to a group of prehistoric Native American sites located south of here in an area that covers the central Mississippi River Valley, the lower Ohio River Valley, and most of the Mid-South area, including western and central Kentucky, western Tennessee, and northern Alabama and Mississippi. These sites share many culture attributes including large ceremonial mounds, residential complexes that are sometimes enclosed by stockades or ramparts, extensive trade networks and advanced agricultural practices. The two major Middle Mississippian sites are Cahokia in Illinois and Moundville in Alabama.

Since Azatlan’s discovery in 1836, there has been intermittent archaeological activity, with the most important excavation in 1919. After the site became a state park in 1948, efforts were made to reconstruct parts of the ancient village. Today, visitors may tour this National Historic Landmark site and explore its partially restored stockade enclosure and famous mounds. Aztalan is open daily, April through October.

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep protects a collection of unique prehistoric archeological sites of the ancestral Puebloan people, also called the Anasazi. Human habitation at Hovenweep dates back over 10,000 years ago when nomadic Paleoindians visited the Cajon Mesa to gather food and hunt game. By about 900 A.D., people started to settle here year-round, planting and harvesting crops on the mesa’s top. At its prime in the late 1200’s, the Hovenweep area was home to over 2,500 people. The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona from about 500 B.C. until nearly A.D. 1300. These people excelled in architectural and craft skills as well as farming. The surviving buildings at Hovenweep are the remnants of the settlements built during the high point of their occupation of region. The structures are numerous and varied. Some are square, some D-shaped, some round, some measuring nearly four stories tall. There are towers, kivas, pueblos, room blocks, granaries, check dams, and farming terraces. By the end of the thirteenth century the people of Hovenweep and the surrounding region (such as Mesa Verde and Kayenta) packed up and left the area, presumably moving southward and joining with the people of the Hopi and Zuni. Several theories have developed as to the reasons for the ancestral Puebloans’ departure. Some say they were forced out by hostile neighbors. Others say a combination of overpopulation, overuse of the land, and a 20 year drought beginning in the year 1276 made the area uninhabitable. The first historic reports of the abandoned structures at Hovenweep were made by W.D. Huntington, the leader of a Mormon expedition into southeast Utah in 1854. In 1917-18, J.W. Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution surveyed the area. Fewkes recommended the structures be protected.

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Links: Hovenweep National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Mesa Verde National Park was the first site in the National Park Service specifically established to preserve cultural artifacts. From about A.D. 600 through 1300 the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people lived in “cliff dwellings,” stone villages constructed in the sheltered alcoves of canyon walls. After 700 years of habitation, these dwellings were abandoned within the span of one or two generations. Their descendants still live in the southwest today. The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are among the best preserved in the United States. Mesa Verde National Park had a difficult fire season in the summer of 2000, but the park has reopened with no damage to the cliff dwellings or the park’s collection of artifacts.

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Links: Mesa Verde National Park