The University of Wisconsin Press

Native American Studies / Archaeology / History / Wisconsin


Spirits of Earth
The Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes
Robert A. Birmingham

Wisconsin Land and Life
Arnold Alanen, Series Editor

"The most comprehensive book that any reader can find on the earthworks of prehistoric mound-building cultures in a heartland area of effigy mound construction. A welcome addition to the literature of Native America."
—Robert L. Hall, author of An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual

Finalist, Social Science, Midwest Book Awards

Between  700 and 1100 Native Americans built more effigy mounds in Wisconsin than anywhere else in North America, with an estimated 1,300 mounds—including the world's largest known bird effigy—at the center of effigy-building culture in and around Madison, Wisconsin. These huge earthworks, sculpted in the shape of birds, mammals, and other figures, have aroused curiosity for generations and together comprise a vast effigy mound ceremonial landscape. Farming and industrialization destroyed most of these mounds, leaving the mysteries of who built them and why they were made. The remaining mounds are protected today and many can be visited. Spirits of Earth explores the cultural, historical, and ceremonial meanings of the mounds in an informative, abundantly illustrated book and guide.

Robert A. Birmingham served as Wisconsin State Archaeologist at the Wisconsin Historical Society for fifteen years. He now teaches at the University of Wisconsin—Waukesha and writes from his home in Madison. He is coauthor, with Leslie E. Eisenberg, of Indian Mounds of Wisconsin (awarded the Elizabeth A. Steinberg Prize), and, with Lynn G. Goldstein, of Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town


Wisconsin Public Television talk:


“Draws the reader past technical jargon and into a world where expressions of cosmology, religion, and ideology have most often been construed by outsiders. [Birmingham] guides the reader through different interpretations of why effigy mounds were built, what they may have meant, and how they may have served the cultures who constructed them.”
Illinois Archaeology

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The cover of Birmingham's book is blue, with a photo of modern Madison superposed by outline drawings of the mounds that were here.

December 2009

LC: 2009011631 E
280 pp.   6 x 9
130 b/w illus. & maps

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Paper $24.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-23264-1
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