Most people know that there are ruins of ancient cities and towns all over the world. Even Wisconsin has them, and Aztalan is one of the most famous ancient sites in our state. Aztalan is also the largest historical site in Wisconsin.
You can find the ancient remains of Aztalan, which is now a Wisconsin State Park, about 30 miles east of Madison and approximately 50 miles west of Milwaukee. This area, now known to be the northernmost settlement occupied by the ancient Mississipians, is close to both the small town of Lake Mills and the Crawfish River.
The Middle Mississippian people originally migrated to Aztalan around 1100 A.D. Archeologists have found many cultural remains in the area. By studying the evidence, archeologists believe that people migrated to Aztalan from a large Mississippian city called Cahokia, located in an area that is now Illinois. The remains at Cahokia and at Aztalan show many similarities, which has led archaeologists to make this connection.
People who settled in Aztalan built many different types of buildings, such as houses, earthen temples, and even a stockade meant to protect the city. This stockade surrounded the town and spanned roughly 20 acres. The people of the Aztalan created a means for insulating their homes. They built their houses on bark and pole structures, which they then covered with clay, helping them keep the cold air out.
In addition to fishing and hunting for food, the community grew a multitude of Midwestern crops, including sunflowers, corn, and squash. During their nearly 150 years of thriving, the Aztalan people formed friendly connections with other native groups, such as the Woodland people.
By 1250 A.D., the people living in Aztalan inexplicably disappeared. Soon after, the other cultures in the Midwest followed suit, leaving only the southern Mississippian civilization in place.
No one knows what brought the Mississippian people to southern Wisconsin in the first place, and the disappearance of the Aztalan community also remains a mystery. Archaeologists and scientists are still researching and contemplating these questions. What do you think happened?
[Sources: Wisconsin DNR; Milwaukee Public Museum]