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Wisconsin Bill Opens Door for Excavation of Effigy/Burial Mounds

Wisconsin Bill Opens Door for Excavation of Effigy/Burial Mounds

On December 29, 2015, a group of Republican representatives and senators sent Assembly Bill 620 to the Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Environment and Forestry. This bill establishes a procedure for private landowners with property containing state-cataloged burial sites to challenge the existence of human remains at the sites. This bill specifically targets the doubt surrounding effigy mounds as sites for human burial.

Effigy mounds are large earthen structures built by prehistoric Native Americans and are often found in the shape of various animals and people. These mounds were used for burial, ceremonial and utilitarian purposes. Current Wisconsin law protects these mounds from being disturbed. An estimated 80% of Wisconsin effigy mounds have already been destroyed due to construction and farming.

Under the proposed bill, private landowners may be issued a permit to investigate effigy and burial mounds at their own expense, using archaeological excavation or ground-penetrating radar, for conclusive proof of human remains. If the investigation finds no evidence, then the mounds are removed from state protection and can be completely destroyed. Any mounds found after passage of this bill would require proof of human remains in order for the mound group to be protected.

On January 6, 2016, Representative Mary Czaja withdrew as a coauthor of the bill after meeting with members of the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature and Office of the President to learn more about the cultural significance of effigy and burial mounds. The Ho-Chunk Nation has been protesting this bill, arguing that “disturbance of these sites, for whatever reason, constitutes desecration. Under the proposed legislation, a burial site or effigy mound would be ravaged just to definitively prove that remains were present.” They have launched both a website and Twitter hashtag (#SaveTheMounds) in addition to organizing a planned rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison tomorrow (January 12, 2016) to counter the bill.

You can follow updates on the bill here https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2015/proposals/ab620 and follow the Ho-Chunk Nation’s efforts at http://savethemounds.com/.