Archaeology at Mount Hope

Pictured here, the Mount Hope field crew (Fall 2008).

Pictured here, the Mount Hope field crew (Fall 2008).

With permission from the offices of the State Archaeologist and the Burials Archaeologist of Wisconsin, the archaeological survey of Mount Hope began in the fall of 2007. The project was initiated by members of the Burlington Historical Society (Burlington, Wis.) who approached faculty and students from Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC). Their primary interest was the clearing of land believed to hold 19th century human interments. Records archived within the historical society and the Milwaukee Public Library System (Central Branch; Milwaukee, Wis.) described to the persons contained within the Mount Hope burial group and the impact they made as early landowners and territorial settlers. The site’s archaeological integrity and its eligibility for preservation as an important landmark in the history of Walworth and Racine Counties became the purpose of the project.

Volunteers from Burlington, Wis., and Wisconsin Lutheran College clear-cut the cemetery site in the fall of 2007. Oral reports of the site’s history, dating to the 1940s and 1950s, identified the history and degree of site disruption. In this case, the majority of the site’s post depositional disturbances came from its utilization as a cattle pen; often referred to as timber grazing, this agricultural practice accounted for damage to a number of local cemeteries yet, in the case of Mount Hope, this pastoral strategy may have preserved the site’s old growth oak stand and the ornamental plantings associated with its historic development. Throughout Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine landscape, timber grazing allowed for both short-term returns for livestock feed while at the same time insuring a future timber resource (Fleischner, 1996; Huddleston and Kling, 1984).

WLC students of archaeology physically testing the drumlin’s eastern bluff.

WLC students of archaeology physically testing the drumlin’s eastern bluff.

Historic records associated with the cemetery’s 19th century survey and planning, described it as a 5,420-square meter plot. This estimate provided WLC archaeologists, in 2008, with an approximation of their project area. Additional historic information associated with the property’s historical tax status helped to orientate the burial group in relation to landmarks of the modern USGS survey map and several historic plat maps. Records recovered by the Burlington Historical Society, described the location of the western edge of the cemetery and its associated carriageway. These records placed the entire site along the southeastern quarter section line of the 23rd section of the Spring Prairie Township (situated within the northeastern quarter of the Lake Geneva Quadrangle). The access corridor which provided historic mortuary practitioners and mourners with access to the cemetery is still used as by the Stowell Family to access their agricultural holdings. Additionally, this public right of way has proven helpful in allowing archaeologists to identify the cemetery’s location on a wide variety of maps–accurately estimating the site’s elevation and orientation along a glacial drumlin.

After the initial clear cutting of the site, archaeologists began to map all terrestrial features associated with the cemetery. Surface depressions and natural mound features were identified and mapped. The location and orientation of the cemetery landscape along with a series of cedar and oak plantings were assigned to the land use history of the site and over two centuries of frontier settlement. These features were also recorded and mapped.

A WLC student cleaning a fallen grave marker for a late afternoon photograph.

A WLC student cleaning a fallen grave marker for a late afternoon photograph.

Though sub-surface testing for archaeological features was not possible for the historic cemetery–due to the statutory protections awarded human burials under several legislative documents–archaeologists conducted pedestrian surveys and limited shovel testing of historically plowed land directly west and north of the cemetery, and pastured land to the east. Though the intentions of project historians and archaeologists was focused on situating the cemetery plot and its occupants within a history of Wisconsin Territorial development (not an interest either defined by the act or one that ran contrary to the spirit of the legislation), the methods employed to define the cemetery and estimate the number and condition of its burials fell under the physical limitations of Wisconsin State Statue 157.70.

Today, the preservationist concerns outlined in Wisconsin State Statute 157.70 have come to include burials that are historically associated with local peoples and events. The expansion in the legal authority of this legislation, on the part of local indigenous peoples and elected and appointed state officials, has meant that historic-era burials assigned to American frontier histories, periods of human migration, the death and burial of military personnel, and members of religious movements–even if they lack any discernable, “direct kinship” (2005:16) relations with living peoples–continues to prevent archaeological investigation and preservation of their remains. This has meant that modern field practitioners are required to consider the social context of a burial group’s initial establishment and later development, and its current preservation status. In this case archaeologists, in particular, are challenged to identify an interment’s socio-cultural significance in light of modern municipal and private development.

A shell bead recovered from a hearth feature along the drumlin's eastern bluff. Evidence of a Mississippian cultural component? (The term "Mississippian" refers to the many language communities that created the effigy mounds of Wisconsin and Illinois.)

A shell bead recovered from a hearth feature along the drumlin's eastern bluff. Evidence of a Mississippian cultural component? (The term "Mississippian" refers to the many language communities that created the effigy mounds of Wisconsin and Illinois.)

A phase one assessment of Mount Hope, was employed to determine the physical conditions of the burial group and its social value to living residents of Burlington, Wis. In 2006, Wisconsin Lutheran College entered into discussions with members of the Burlington Historical Society and other “interested parties” from Walworth and Racine Counties. Researchers from Wisconsin Lutheran College under the advisement of personnel of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Department of Anthropology were concerned with the assessment of the site’s structural integrity and what degree of impact that the initial survey of the site and its later recognition as a historic landmark would make on the integrity of burial features and their legal protection. Whether these researchers choose to consider the philosophy of Executive Order 11593 or the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Lyng vs The Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association (King 2008:27), the human remains that defined the Mount Hope burial group were considered to be a non-replentishable human resource of significant historical importance (in this case contributing to the social history of the American frontier, both within the territorial history of the State of Wisconsin and the national history of American Westward expansion).

In the 2008 field season a second phase of indirect site analysis began with the excavation of 1×1 meter test pits along the drumlin’s eastern bluff and the access roadway believed to be the public corridor defined in the 1851 survey by William Dyer and the Mount Hope Cemetery Association. This spring the access corridor will be trenched, adding archaeological data to historical and botanical qualities of the cemetery’s orientation. The orientation of this carriageway, its phases of construction and use, and the traffic bond–if any–used to prevent seasonal erosion and the encroachment of local plant stands will be of primary importance to trenchers.


About The Author

Ned began his ministry in 2006 as an adjunct professor in anthropology. Today he is an assistant professor and splits his time between Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) and HOPE School (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). His current goal is to use this split position to bring young people to college and immerse them in a Christian atmosphere where God's creation can be celebrated, and where His plan for humankind can be understood through a closer examination of human biology and culture.

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