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Discovering Aztalan, Wisconsin's Hidden Ancient Civilization

Aztalan was an ancient civilization located in what is now southern Wisconsin. It was discovered in the 1820s by American settlers, who named the hidden civilization but did not explore its origins.

Then came Increase A. Lapham, a natural scientist from Wisconsin. He revisited Aztalan in 1850 after the settlers. Lapham couldn't tell what used to be there. He studied and made detailed drawings of the area. These maps helped future researchers see what Aztalan was like before much of it was turned into farmland.

In 1919, Samuel Barrett, the founder of the Milwaukee Public Museum, did detailed research under the surface of Aztalan. At first, he thought the hills and bumps were effigy mounds from the Native Americans. Later, Barrett discovered that the Crawfish River cut a ravine through some of the land. He was excited because this revealed more tools, bones, and other artifacts. Later in his studies, he could tell that it was a very advanced civilization from things like structures or pottery.

Lapham and Barrett both had theories on how Aztalan became abandoned. Both theories were similar, and they believed that the civilization had enemies due to the structures they found. Aztalan had tall towers and a perimeter wall. The structures were about 700 feet by 1,500 feet and covered about 21 acres of land.

Many believe that the Aztec empire is related to Aztalan because of their similar names, but that is untrue. Some sources say that the people who lived at Aztalan came from the Mississippian civilization. It's unclear why Aztalan was abandoned, and we may never know because the area wasn't initially protected for archaeological research. Regardless of why Aztalan was abandoned, it's important to remember the civilizations that were here before us.

[Source: Wisconsin History Highlights]

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