Aztalan State Park

From Encyclopedia of Wisconsin Environmental History
Jump to: navigation, search

Aztalan State Park is located in Jefferson County in Southern Wisconsin. Aztalan originally got its name from the Aztecs, whom first expeditions falsely believed to have created the city. Early accounts considered it an "ancient city". It got this nickname because of the brick like material they used in their building that made it seem like a more modern city. No one knows exactly what happened to the Mississippian people but some experts think that maybe they were attacked by more militarized Native American tribes.[1]

Mississippian Culture

Mississippian Culture during the time Aztalan was occupied would've ranged from Northern Missouri to Wisconsin along the Mississippi River Valley. First occupied in 900 by sections of the Middle Mississippian Culture. For unknown reasons Aztalan was abondoned sometime between 1200-1300 AD. Mississippian Cultures are known for having an extensive trade network ranging from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.[2] Pottery with shells in it, and tools made of copper show the range of the trading networks. Mississippian Cultures also developed extensive social classes. Important families would live atop of mounds built in the cities.


Samuel A. Barrett found that the walls of the Aztalan site were made from large standing post with sticks woven between and then covered in a clay and grass mixture. This technique was popular among Mississippian cultures and called wattle and daub.[3] are two sections of walls made at the Aztalan site. There is also evidence of watchtowers set up on both sides, leaving reason to believe the walls were used for defense. Old remains of buildings, fire pits, storage areas, and a garbage area were all found with the same building techniques.


Mississippians were considered some of the first mound builders. Three Mounds are located at the Aztalan site. The first and largest mound is believed to be used as a place for the chief's or religious leader's house. The chief's house would be built at the top and when they died there house would be torn down and buried. The next leader's house would then be built on the top of the the next level. The second mound was used for burials. Ten people would be laid side by side and then burned. Another layer of earth would be laid over the top and the mound would again grow another level [4] The third mound in Aztalan is the smallest and it is still unknown what it was used for. The beginning of another burial mound, trading center, or another important person's house are all ideas [5].


Aztalan is thought to be discovered by Timothy Johnson in 1836. The only first-hand account is an article by Johnson himself but second and third hand accounts credits Johnson with the discovery. It is believed that others may have stubbled across the "ancient city" but for some reason no official reports were ever made. in 1835 a US surveyor team went through the area at least twice but still made no record of finding the city.

Archeological Research

The Wisconsin Archeological Society was one of the first groups to do research in the Aztalan complex. Since the Wisconsin Archeological Society was officially created in 1906, it was doing digs before there was a lot of professionally trained archeologist. In 1909, Samuel A. Barrett was one of the first professionally trained Anthropologist to visit the site. Barrett continued to do research into the 20's before it was taken over by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Research by the Wisconsin Historical Society continued into the 50's and 60's. More recent work has been done by UW-Milwaukee and Michigan State University. Remote sensing equipment now makes it easier for archaeologists to scan differences in soil to pinpoint exact locations of walls and other buildings that are now buried underground [6]


  1. Rudolph Kz, Osteological Evidence of Drama and Intergroup Hostility at the Aztalan Site, in American Journal Of Physical Anthropology, 2011, Vol.144 Suppl 52, pp.258-258.
  2. Guy E. Gibbon, A Brief History of Oneota Research in Wisconsin, in Wisconsin magazine of history, Vol. 53, no. 4 (Summer 1970), pp. 278-293.
  3. John D Richards, Viewing the Ruins: the Early Documentary History of the Aztalan Site, in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 2007, Wisconsin magazine of history, Vol. 91, no. 2, (Winter 2007-20080.
  4. John D Richards, Viewing the Ruins: the Early Documentary History of the Aztalan Site, in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 2007, Wisconsin magazine of history, Vol. 91, no. 2, (Winter 2007-20080.
  5. Kavasch, E. Barrie, 2015, “Ancient Mounds,” Cobblestone 36 (8): 4,,uid&db=prh&AN=109413184&site=ehost-live&scope=site
  6. Robert A Birmingham, Aztalan: Mysteries of an Old Indian Town, in Wisconsin magazine of history, Vol. 89, no. 3 (Spring 2006).

Article History