Returning to Aztalan

Aztalan Excavation Team, via Dr. Lynne Goldstein

Aztalan Excavation Team, Photo by L. Goldstein and used with permission

Dr. Lynne Goldstein has worked in and around Aztalan since 1976. Aztalan is a large Middle Mississippian site (ca. AD 1000-1200) located between the modern cities of Milwaukee and Madison, and is the most famous archaeological site in Wisconsin.  During this past summer, Dr. Goldstein led an excavation of the site to address questions about its structure. The field school included students from Michigan State University, students from University of Northern Iowa led by Professor Donald Gaff, and students from UW-Madison led by Dr. Sissel Schroeder. The teaching assistants for the project included current MSU Anthropology graduate student Kate Frederick and alumna Hannah Nelson. The crew included 20 individuals total.

Aztalan map with areas to be excavated noted, via Dr. Lynne Goldstein

Aztalan map with areas to be excavated noted, map by L. Goldstein and used with permission

The field school took place through May and June 2013, and sought to answer questions by doing selective excavation units in two areas: a gravel knoll in the southeast corner of the palisaded area and an extension of the palisaded area referred to as the ‘sculptuary’. It was previously thought that the gravel knoll was a mound structure, however discovery of the sculptuary brought this interpretation into question. Excavation of the two areas revealed that they were heavily used in prehistoric times and would have been highly visible due to a mix of gravel and shell capping each raised feature.

They also found a deliberate opening in the palisade wall, which had not been previously documented. Near this entrance was a pit lined with gravel containing both Late Woodland and Mississippian ceramics and a gravel path leading to the palisade opening. Based on the evidence collected from this summer’s field school, Dr. Goldstein proposes that the people of Aztalan were deliberately sculpting and modifying the landscape to meet their needs and represent their views of the world.

This past year, three undergraduate MSU Anthropology students have continued to work on the project, supported by Provost Undergraduate Research Initiative grants. Kyla Cools is working on analyzing intrasite variation of ceramics from the site. “Since the areas we excavated were not just habitation areas, but used during special circumstances, I am hoping to determine whether or not the ceramics found (and their frequency in the archaeological record) at these sites differ from those found in habitation areas,” says Kyla. Ian Harrison is using Carbon 14 dating of materials from the site to create a more accurate timeline of occupation. Megan Hall is preparing the collections for transportation to a permanent curation facility. Each of these students received funding through the grant to attend the field school and conduct the follow-up research during the school year.

Details on the field school and the blog detailing the excavation can be found online: anthropology.msu. edu/aztalan-fieldschool/ 

[Included in the Spring 2014 Dept. of Anthropology Newsletter, see complete newsletter here]