Ancient Wisconsin Rock Art Highlighted on Saturday, February 17

Imagine exploring an ancient Wisconsin rock art site that was regularly utilized by a succession of cultures from the end of the Ice Age through the Mississippian phase — a period spanning over 10,000 years. Imagine if that site had exceptional acoustic, magnetic, geologic and other properties that made it the right place for successive generations of shamanic visitors to add dozens of images — images that have been thoroughly documented and examined, but have now been re-covered with earth to preserve them for generations to come.

Join Dale G. Van Holten on on Saturday, February 17, 10:30 – Noon, at the Goodman South Madison Library on Park St. to explore the thousands of years of human habitation and activity documented at the Hensler Petroglyph Site.

Nestled inside an active stone quarry just outside of Waterloo, Hensler is the oldest petroglyph (rock art) gallery and sacred site in the Midwest. A recent scientific assessment using state-of-the-art technology confirms that the earliest symbols found at the site are 12,500 years old.

This data confirms the value of the careful work carried out over past 11 years by a dedicated team of volunteers, led by Anthropologist/Archaeologist Jack Steinbring of Ripon College and UW-Oshkosh. They’re digging for unique insights that can only be found at Hensler into the people living in (or passing through) what is now South Central Wisconsin over a vast span of time. In addition to completing a series of excavations under Jack’s direction, the team has cataloged a large volume of artifacts, photographed the glyphs using various cameras and lighting techniques and helped conserve the glyphs found at the site.

Dale is a  board member of the Waterloo Area Historical Society, assistant to Dr. Steinbring and curator of the Hensler and Yelk artifact collections at Ripon College. On Saturday Dale will lead you through the investigation at Hensler. Through pictures and words you will learn about the geology, the petroglyphs, the excavations and the fascinating artifacts recovered so far from the Hensler Petroglyph Site.

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Our Focus Extends Beyond the Mounds to Embrace All Ancient Earthworks

Tom Solberg, AES President

All of us in the Ancient Earthworks Society share an interest in – and a determination to protect – Wisconsin’s remarkable effigy mound heritage. But our interests extend beyond the mounds to include rock art, arranged stones, pits, marker trees and other remnants of our distant past. Many of these earthworks are at even greater risk than the mounds because they rarely enjoy any legal protection and have generally been overlooked or discounted by other researchers.

Professor James P. Scherz and other AES members are working to change that. Since Jim began systematically mapping the mounds in 1985, he has carefully documented these features, along with the natural landscapes of which they are an integral part, on hundreds of maps detailing scores of mound sites. By combining data from these maps with historical material (e.g., maps by TH Lewis and other early mound surveyors) and new geospatial imaging technologies (e.g., LiDAR), AES can produce maps that offer unprecedented accuracy, detail and context. This outstanding cartography is of more than academic interest – recent maps produced by Jim are currently being used by archaeologists to protect vulnerable earthworks at two sites of exceptional archaeological interest (Hensler and Kolterman).

AES has also completed preliminary field visits in recent months to a number of other sites in Dane and Sauk Counties that may include undocumented earthworks. AES members also: toured the Dr. J.S. Garman Nature Preserve, a site with over 20 well-preserved conical mounds in June (thank you Dale Van Holten and Laura Cotting for arranging this); participated in Aztalan Days in July (thanks to Robin Untz for inviting us); and had a display at Man Mound Day in August (thanks to Rob Nurre for inviting us). Special thanks go to Donna and Bill Stehling, Kurt Sampson, Dave Weier, Patty Brooks, Lisa Roman, Christy Ward, Doug Norgord, Gene Schugart, Todd Rongstad and Mike Edwards for making these member events a success.

We’ve made some important progress toward our goal of scanning Jim’s most important maps. In early August we purchased a new high-end desktop computer and 24” monitor with generous financial support from Christy and her mother, Betty Ward. That acquisition, together with new office space, a 42” scanner/printer and other resources provided by Jay Mullins, offers the exact tools we need to advance our mapping activities. I want to particularly thank Tony Roman, Dave Weier and Doug Norgord, who determined exactly what our hardware and software priorities should be and found all the parts at a great price.

Another important part of our work will be to scan and categorize historic materials (maps, newspaper articles, reports, documents, etc.) relevant to ancient earthworks. We have a substantial amount of this material in the AES office that needs to be processed. The experience we gain doing this can then be applied to materials in other locations (e.g., local libraries and historical societies). The goal is to build a virtual library of relevant materials that can be accessed using a variety of criteria (e.g., geographic, chronological or subject-based).

I want to encourage all of you to renew your AES membership and to consider a tax-deductible $250 lifetime membership. We put this money to good use and we have many unmet needs, so please give us your financial support.

Our vision is that Wisconsin’s mounds, rock art and other ancient earthworks will one day be widely recognized as the world-class cultural resources they are and that Wisconsin residents of all ages will join us in celebrating (and protecting) this unique cultural heritage.

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