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Archaeologist shares secrets and history of Silver Mound

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FBR Silver Mound

Connie Arzigian, a senior research associate with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center and lecturer UW-La Crosse, holds a sample of the stone from Silver Mound that would have been chipped into various tool heads. Arzigian presented a program about Silver Mound at the Oct. 8 Friends of the Black River meeting.

In the days of the last ice age, something more precious than silver was mined at Silver Mound. During that prehistoric period, pre-European people living in the driftless region mined the special stone found on the mound, using the super hard rock for their tools.

Members and guests of the Friends of the Black River learned about Silver Mound, a National Historic Landmark located near Hixton, at its Oct. 8 meeting.

Connie Arzigian, a senior research associate with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center and lecturer with the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, presented a program about Silver Mound and the impact its stone had on the North American Paleo-Indians of 13,000 years ago.

“Wisconsin has some of the oldest stone on the planet,” Arzigian said. “The silicate doesn’t erode easily. That’s why Silver Mound still stands above the surrounding landscape.”

The stone found at Silver Mound is a type of sandstone whose particles became cemented together through a natural process taking place over the millennia. The first people inhabiting the area quarried the Hixton silicified sandstone or orthoquartzite shaping the stones into spear and arrowheads, scrappers, axes, awls and other tools.

With about 1,000 quarry pits at the site, Silver Mound was the largest source of the orthoquartzite in the Midwest. The oldest quartzite tools are believed to have been made about 11,000 years ago.

Because it was well known, Silver Mound became a gathering site for native groups.

“It’s similar to having to go to Home Depot to stock up,” Arzigian said. “The gatherings were also a time when the small family groups could meet other groups, and the young could find mates outside their immediate families.”

Although very hard, the stone could be shaped into sharp tools through a process known as flint knapping. Tools not used by their makers were traded. Through trade, the tools made their way throughout the continent. Arrow points made from HSS have been found as far south as Kentucky and as far north as Canada.

In her research of Silver Mound, Arzigian learned how the people of that time lived and adapted to the environment. She described how the craftsmen made their hunting spears and how they used a spear launcher called an atlatl.

According to Arzigian, the arrow heads made of the super hard stone were strong enough to pierce the armor of Spanish conquistadors, and the edge could be as sharp as a scalpel.

Because the orthoquartzite stone glittered in sunlight, European immigrants thought there were silver deposits on the sandstone mound. However, despite the fact the mound had many small quarries made by the indigenous people, no silver has ever been found on Silver Mound.

Silver Mound was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. In 2006 it was named a National Historic Landmark because of the potential information it might still hold about the earliest people living in the driftless region of Wisconsin.

Arzigian’s presentation is part of the Friends of the Black River’s schedule of monthly programs. To learn about future programs or more about FBR, visit www.friendsoftheblackriver.com.

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