Ceremonial Pole Mounds Aztalan, Wisconsin

Looking over the core of the enclosed area of the site of Aztalan are a series of large conical mounds.  Before modern plowing, and the emergence of the village of Aztalan, these mound once lined the ridge top to the south and north.  The ten remaining mounds are all that survive from the 70 or so mounds in this area. 

These mounds are often referred to as the "Ceremonial Post Mounds".  With the exception of the Princess Mound, none of these mounds appear to have been used as graves.  Instead, in each mound were found the remains of large posts from ceremonial poles that once extended far above the top of the mound. 

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Signal Hill is a large topographic feature immediately to the west of Aztalan.  The Ceremonial Mounds are clearly visible from the top of Signal Hill, but much of the enclosed village along the river bank is not.  Only the area near the mortuary mound in the northwest part of Aztalan is visible from Signal Hill.

A conical mound estimated at one time to be 30 feet in diameter and up to 5 feet in height was located on the top of the hill.  Today, nothing is left of this mound.

Signal Hill is not part of Aztalan State Park, and the land is actively farmed today.  Permission must be obtained from the landowner to walk to the top of Signal Hill.

 

Photographing Mounds

On Photographing Effigy Mounds

Making photographs of the Native American Mounds can be a very difficult prospect.  Many mound groups are located in beautiful settings along lakes and rivers, and picturesque bluffs.  These mounds are readily visible to the observer, but when photographed they tend to blend into the landscape. Effigy mound shapes in particular can be difficult to make effective images of.

Photographers over the past century have employed several techniques in an attempt to show the diversity of mound shapes.  Occasionally they were outlined with substances such as lime to highlight the mound shapes.  This was a satisfactory technique if the mound was located in a well manicured environment.  Most mounds are not in such a location, and the alteration of the landscape is frowned upon today.

Weather also helps show the shape of the mound.  Flood waters can effectively show the shapes of mounds, especially intaglios such as the one in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.  The differential melting of snow can occasionally be an effective way to outline the shapes of mounds.

Aerial photography is another technique that can be used.  Today, the use of drones can greatly aid in making images of mounds.  But the problem of how to clearly demarcate the mound’s shapes is still problematic.

The best way to show the mounds is to photograph them in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low and produces wonderful soft shadows.  This low, racking light, and the shadow it casts, can effectively show the mound shapes in a way that the harsh light of mid-day light cannot.  These lighting conditions can benefit both the on-ground photographer as well as images taken from the air.   

Effective images of mounds can also be taken during late twilight times while the moon is low on the horizon.  This result in interesting images that highlight the shapes of the mounds, while allowing some starlight to show in the skies.

Most interesting are shots taken in the late twilight times by providing light from artificial sources.  Back in the days before digital cameras with high ISO capabilities, interior spaces such as cathedrals in Europe were photographed using techniques that today we call ‘light painting’.  With light painting, a light source from something as small as the light provided by a cell phone, to hand held high power spotlights can provide enough light to ‘paint’ the shape of mound.  The most effective strategy is to position the camera and light source as an angle that will provide enough of a shadow to show the shapes of the mounds.  Generally speaking you will want to use as soft, diffused light as possible.  My preference is for small hand held LED lights to paint the shape of the mound that best captures the image.  Some degree of post-processing may be required to balance the temperature between the natural light, and the light from whatever light source you are using.  This is will be necessary for color photographs, but not as important for black and white images.

In the near future, my plans will be to create a short video of light painting mounds that should help you create wonderful images of these sacred mounds.

 

Mound a Week Images

In March of this year, I have started a series of weekly posts on my Facebook timeline, and that of the Effigy Mounds Initiative's Facebook timeline, which will include images of Native American Mounds from Wisconsin and neighboring states.  Occasionally images of mounds from other parts of the United States will be included.  In addition, images taken during my days studying Archeologiy in undergraduate (BS UW-Oshkosh 1978) and graduate schools (MA, UW-Madison 1982) in the 1970's and 1980's, will make there way into this portfolio.

Over the past ten years or so, I have been actively photographing archeological sites throughout the U.S.  This includes the midwest and southwestern United States.  Rather than have those images languish unseen on my hard drives, or lost to the 15 minutes of fame on Facebook, I have decided to place these images into a more permanent location.  Moving forward, the images I post on Facebook as part of the "Mound a Week" series, will now also be posted on my personal portfolio site.  The link to my on-line portfolio is:  https://danielseurer.myportfolio.com

In addition to posting images in my on-line portfolio, I will also be using this blog to provide a backstory on some of these images.  While most of these backstories will be in written form, I plan to eventually create short 1 or 2 minutes vlogs (video logs) backstories where appropriate.

Once I have posted a large enough body of work, the plan will be to create an ebook from this collection.  

I invite any one to download these images for personal use and enjoyment.  I freely will grant permission to use these images for all activities related to the study and preservation of these sacred places.  All I ask is to be notified of the intended use, and be given the proper credit.

I hope you enjoy this series, and trust they will help in building awareness to our historic and prehistoric heritage.

Click on the Above Image to Enlarge

Heirs to a Most Glorious Heritage

Our nation’s natural environment and cultural heritage sites are under attack to a degree not seen in decades. Executive orders are dramatically shrinking protected lands throughout the United States, opening them up to resource extraction that will irrevocably mar the landscape, and destroy culturally sensitive sites.

 

We only need to look at what is happening around Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota as an example. Oil and gas drilling facilities line the boundary of the park, and many of these facilities are clearly visible from what were once unspoiled vistas. Future developments in the area threaten to destroy this view shed even further.

 

It is sadly ironic that this development is occurring around a park whose name sake is a president who was a staunch proponent of our National Parks and wilderness areas. President Theodore Roosvelt’s quotes acompanying these photographs, many over a century old, outline why these resources needed protection then, and for the fight to protect them to continue today. Many of these quotes come as a result of his ranching days within the boundaries of the park from the late 19th century.

View/download a pdf of my photographs taken at Theodore Roosevelt National Monument

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Spring Equinox Sunrise, Monks Mound.

I don't think I could have asked for a better spring equinox sunrise at Cahokia. Here are two shots from Woodhenge looking east towards the sun rising over Monks Mound. The sun was only visible for about 5 minutes at sunrise before clouds obscured it. At least it was for the right 5 minutes. I felt honored to be given such a beautiful morning.

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Excavations at 18th Century French Settlement, Saint Louis

Often times, the perception of archeological digs are some remote, beautiful locations such as Egypt, Mayan Lowlands, or the Andes Mountains. Or, heaven forbid, Indiana Jones type adventures. The reality is often far different. Case in point. Missouri DOT archeologists are currently at work in Saint Louis just south of the arch, uncovering the remains of the earliest Saint Louis French occupation from the 1760's. I've never been at a dig with the rumble of interstate traffic and rail freight overhead.

 

Wisconsin Effigy Mounds, Sacred Sites

A group of Republican State of Wisconsin Senators on working on amendments to the Wisconsin Burial Protection laws that will seek to eviscerate the current law.  If this action becomes law many locations containing known effigy mounds and potential Native American burial sites will be threatened with destruction.  The amendments being proposed are due to the special interest of a single quarry plant operator in McFarland Wisconsin.

I have created a short photo application showing some of Wisconsin's Mounds.  Some of these mounds are very  similar to the ones immediately endangered is these amendments pass into law.  

Sacred Places: Check out this Slate story I made.

 

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New PDF Series

Starting today I will be posting a series of short PDF compilations from my current and past travels.  Each PDF will present theme based images on a variety of subjects which I hope you will find interesting.  Each month I will then combine these individual PDF's into a single publication that will be available here, plus in iBook format on Apple's iBook store.

The first set of images were taken over a two night period in December 2014.  The second in a series of massive storms struck the central California coast, and I was able to capture some images from the area around Lands End, San Francisco.

Storm at Lands End, San Francisco

In early December the second in a series of very powerful storms struck the northern coast of San Francisco.  The near hurricane force winds whipped up the sea along the coast and the opportunity to photograph it was just to hard to resist.

I was in town that week for training, leaving only the evening hours to photography the fury of the Pacific ocean.  There was enough ambient light from Cliff Palace on the short and from a near full moon on the first night to allow me to take these wonderful images.  T
he overhangs of Cliff Palace itself proved to be most useful.  When the wind driven rain was at it worst it provided a drier sanctuary for my camera (and me) to shoot the scene.

To see more images , go to my Lands End Gallery.

 

Sharing more of my work

Over the course of the next year, I plan on spending as much time working on getting my work out via publications, including ibooks and pdf formatted publications.  Some of my work has already been published.  I was honored with the recent publication of my Sunset Crater portfolio the December 5th edition of Lenswork Magazine's Readers Spotlight site.  The editors of Lenswork graciously allowed my distribution of this PDF version of the publication on my website.


In early 2015 I expect to have my first iBook published.  The topic will be "Santa Rose de Lima: The First Church of Abiquiu.  

Other related southwest and midwest archeology/history related portfolios will also become available in 2015.  My plan is to release the on-line versions of my iBooks for free, and make available for purchase a portfolio of the prints from the book.



Non-Destructive Archeological Techniques Workshop at Aztalan

Today was the fourth day of the "Current Archaeological Prospection Advances for Non-Destructive Investigations in the 21st Century" at the archeological site of Aztalan in southern Wisconsin.  Led by Steven DeVore, this workshop is "dedicated to the use of geophysical, aerial photography, and other remote sensing methods as they apply to the identification, evaluation, conservation, and protection of archaeological resources across this Nation."

For more information on this workshop, please go to:

http://ncptt.nps.gov/events/current-archeological-prospection-advances-for-non-destructive-investigations-in-the-21st-century/

Below are a couple photographs of some of the hard working workshop participants


In their Own Words: Archeologists Tell Their Story about Excavations at Aztalan

In this second in my series of "In their Own Words", UW-Milwaukee student and teaching assistant for the 2013 field season, Jennifer Picard, at discusses her experiences working at this site.  Jennifer explains the work that occurred along the palisade line, first reported by S. Barrett in his early 20th century investigations along the Crawfish River front near the sites northeast platform mound.

This was Jennifer's second season of work at this site.

View the video

 

 

 

 UW-Milwaukee Teaching Assistant Jennifer Picard

UW-Milwaukee Teaching Assistant Jennifer Picard

Wisconsin's Vanishing Silos Project

In this series of blog posts, I will present the story of one of my Photography projects that I have titled "Wisconsin's Vanishing Silos".  This is a project that I have undertaken over the past several years while roaming the backroads of Wisconsin

Everyone who lives or travels throughout Wisconsin probably takes the dairy farm silos for granted.  Many peoples perceptions of a Wisconsin farm include the red barn and the blue harvester silo.

But silos have not always been a part of the agricultural landscape.  In fact for the first 50 years of so there were few or no silos.  It was not until Wisconsin's dairy industry took hold in Wisconsin that silos became prevalent.

The history and evolution of the silo became a fascinating topic.  The early history of Wisconsin silos demonstrate a wide variety or shape, materials, and construction in the late 19th and early 20th century.  This photo project is devoted to the documentation of these rapidly vanishing early silos.

I hope you will enjoy this series.


Equinox at Aztalan

It is hard to believe that after such a miserably cold and snowy winter here in Wisconsin that spring is going to be around the corner.  It does not feel like it right now, since it is only 15 degrees outside, but maybe sometime soon it will warm up.

I always try to watch the sunrise at the spring and fall equinox at Aztalan.  Hopefully this year I will again enjoy it and capture the scene with may camera.  It is a beautiful scene to stand on top of the southwest mound, and watch the sunrise over the gravel knoll and the Crawfish River.

The equinox last fall was interesting.  The fog gave it a very surreal feel, with the fog moving back and forth across the scene.  I wish the fog had not thickened to the point of obscuring the gravel knoll, but do the best with what has been given to you.

">Click here to see the Fall 2013 Equinox sunrise at Aztalan

 

 

In Their Own Words: Archeologists Tell Their Story about Excavations at Aztalan

In 2013, students and professors from several Midwestern Universities (Michigan State, Northern Iowa University, and University of Wisconsin Madison) conducted two archeology field schools at the site of Aztalan, in south-central Wisconsin.

I had the pleasure of meeting many new budding archeologists, and renewing acquaintences with students and professors that I have known for some time.  I am especially grateful to Dr. Lynne Goldstein of Michigan State University and Dr. John Richards of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for providing me full access to photograph the excavations and excavators.

One of the results of my photography, is the creation of a series of multi-media presentations titled "In Their Own Words: Aztalan Archeologists Tell Their Story".  Combining still photos, video clips, and audio, each short vignette allows the archeologists and students to express their thoughts, expectations, and discussions of the findings from excavations at Aztalan.

The first in this series highlights UW-Milwaukee field school student Kristina Dineen-Grube.

I hope you enjoy the first in this series, and with future posts.

 

View the  Video

A new henge discovered near Lake Mills Wisconsin


England may have its famous Stonehenge, and the ancient site of Cahokia may have its own Woodhenge(s), but a newly discovered henge on the icy plains of Rock Lake, near the archeological site of Aztalan was certainly unexpected.


On the eastern shore of Rock Lake, a mysterious feature, referred to as Ice Henge was recently discovered.  Researchers readily noted the similarity of Ice Henge with the more famous Stonehenge site.  Archeo-astronomers are researching the possibility of astronomical alignments with solstice and equinox events.  Says one researcher  "The placement of the pine trees on the outer ring of Ice Henge is more than coincidence.  We think these mark the Winter and Summer Solstice sunrises.  We just hope that the long winter remains a bit longer so we can actually observe the sunrise/sunset here at Ice Henge."  Another scientist observing Ice Henge believes some of the ice columns point to the nearby archeological site of Aztalan.

It is unclear at this time if this Ice Henge is related to the mysterious underwater pyramids in Rock Lake.

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Wupatki, Bad Weather Conditions for Photo's turns out no so bad

Earlier in December of 2012 I had the opportunity to visit the Flagstaff Arizona area and had a single day to do some photography.  Continuing my work of photographing archeological sites, I made my plans to shoot the ruins at Wupatki National Monument about an hours drive away.

When I woke up early in the morning, the weather conditions were horrendous.  Lots of snow had fallen in Flagstaff, and road conditions were poor.  I knew that Wupatki was at a slightly lower elevation, and there was a chance there was little or no snow there.  So I  packed the camera gear, warm clothes and headed out.

On the way I was slowed by snowy roads and a multi-car slide off that closed the highway for a while.  But at last I made it to Wupatki.  As expected, there was no snow, but it was raining steadily.  Not the best weather I thought for photography.  But I was here, and decided to make the best of it.  I am glad I did.

Normally I shoot my pictures with the idea of creating black and white images.  In reviewing some of my initial shots, the lighting conditions were not producing the results I was hoping for.   However, the wet conditions were producing some very interesting, saturated colors on the rocks, vegetation, and sandstone masonry of the ruins. The overcast conditions hid some of the surrounding volcanic landscapes, but it allowed me to focus more on the ruins.  It made for some interesting shots, and not the typical dry weather landscapes that one typically sees of southwestern sites.


So, back in the warmth of the digital dark room I created the photographs that I posted to my southwestern gallery.  I look forward to going back to Wupatki under better weather conditions, but at least I was able to make some decent shots.  Plus I learned not to be afraid on photographing when weather conditions are less than optimal.

  Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

Wupatki National Monument, Arizona


 

UW-Milwaukee Field School Begins at Aztalan.

 Former MSU Excavation Units on Gravel Knoll.

Former MSU Excavation Units on Gravel Knoll.

The gravel knoll at Aztalan State Park is quiet now.  The Michigan State University Archeology Field School ended several weeks ago,and all the remains are the filled in excavation units.  The sounds of singing trowels and students sifting dirt through quarter  inch mesh screens has been replaced by the songs of the redwing blackbird, hawks, and the occasional visitor.  Many fond memories I am sure still linger with the Field School participants.  The tales of wet, stormy days, and sleepless nights due to the incessant noise from the nearby peacocks have undoubtedly reach near mythical proportions.

 

 

 Dr. John Richards, UW-Milwaukee

Dr. John Richards, UW-Milwaukee

Aztalan will be coming alive once again with archeological activity.  Another field school, directed by Dr. John Richards of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has just begun.  Dr. Richards will be working along the river bank north  of the gravel knoll as well as the vicinity of the northeast platform mound.  The datum has been established, the excavation area flagged.  Weather permitting, Dr. Richards excavations will begin in earnest this coming week and continue work through the middle of August.

 

 

 

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As I did with the MSU field school, I will be photographing  the UW-Milwaukee archeologists progress at Aztalan, and will post updates and additional photos here.  

 

Aztalan Sunset Time Still Motion Video

Over the past several weeks, I have started shooting time lapse videos, or as they are more often referred to "Still Motion."  Right now, sunsets over the archeological site of Aztalan, Wisconsin have been my focus.  This video shows a still motion video of the sunset on July 2, 2013 at Aztalan State Park. 

 

 

MSU Group Shot

 MSU Archeology Field School, Aztalan WI 2013

MSU Archeology Field School, Aztalan WI 2013

One of the traditions of a field school is the obligatory group shot of all the participants.  This year's field school was no different, and I was honored to be asked to take this picture.  Fortunately it was a overcast day with a bit of rain/mist, but that had become the norm for the MSU fieldschool at Aztalan, and actually made for good shooting. 

Finally, one of the tasks the students performed was the writing of a blog entry.  I found these to be very informative, and interesting in what everyones perspective on the whole experience was.  The blog posts can be found at: