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Bear Mound

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c. 100 BCE–1100 CE. Vilas Circle Park, between the 1400 and 1500 block of Vilas Ave.

Native Americans constructed this large bear effigy mound during the Late Woodland period. Located on the west slope of a high knoll that forms Vilas Circle Park, it was once part of a group that included seven linear mounds and a conical or round mound. A linear mound survives on a neighboring property, but most of the others have been destroyed by residential development. The effigy is 82 feet long and 3 feet high and has a maximum width of 20 feet. A portion of one leg was damaged during early road construction. Bear effigies, believed to symbolize the earth in the mound builders’ cosmology, are among the most common. Although of ancient age, this mound may have been reused for a burial in more recent times. In the early 1900s, children digging in the mound reportedly found the remnants of an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century steel sword. Dispossessed Ho-Chunks and other native people frequently buried their dead in ancient mounds, and this European or American sword might have accompanied one of the burials.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Bear Mound", [Madison, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 457-458.

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