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Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town

Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town
Aztalan: Mysteries of an Ancient Indian Town
Price: $14.95
Paperback: $14.95
152 pages
ISBN: 978-0870203626

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press

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By Robert A. Birmingham & Lynne G. Goldstein

Aztalan has remained a mystery since the early nineteenth century when it was discovered by settlers who came to the Crawfish River, fifty miles west of Milwaukee. Who were the early indigenous people who inhabited this place? When did they live here? Why did they disappear? Robert Birmingham and Lynne Goldstein attempt to unlock some of the mysteries, providing insights and information about the group of people who first settled here in 1100 A.D. Filled with maps, drawings, and photographs of artifacts, this volume examines a time before modern Native American people settled this place.


Robert Birmingham is the former Wisconsin State Archaeologist (1989-2004) at the Wisconsin Historical Society and the author and editor of many publications on Wisconsin archaeology. He took his undergraduate and graduate school training from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and had conducted fieldwork throughout the state. He is the senior editor of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society special volumes "Wisconsin Rock Art" and "Wisconsin Archaeology" and the recipient from that organization of the Increase Lapham research medal for outstanding contributions to the field of archaeology. He now teaches anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and writes from his home in Madison. Additional titles from Robert Birmingham are Spirits of Earth: Effigy Mounds of Madison and the Four Lakes and Skunk Hill: An Indian Community During the Great Depression. 

Lynne Goldstein is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Michigan State University where she has worked since 1996. Previously, she spent 21 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her BA in Anthropology is from Beloit and her Ph.D. in Anthropology is from Northwestern. Goldstein has conducted fieldwork in various places, but especially Illinois, Wisconsin, and California. She has worked with Native American tribes in Wisconsin and elsewhere, including collaborative work in developing Wisconsin's burial law. Most recently, her research has been focused on the Aztalan site; she has worked at or around Aztalan since 1977, and since 1998, has directed a project to integrate and summarize all known Aztalan data. 

Interview with Bob Birmingham

Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to write about the mysteries of Aztalan?

Aztalan is Wisconsin's most famous archaeological site and is a state park visited by tens of thousands of people each year. It has exciting stories to tell, yet there was no modern book on the site. I'd hope this book would be a good introduction for visitors, and one that would draw more attention to the place.

WHS Press: What are your research interests concerning Aztalan?

I am most interested in mysteries of what brought these people to the banks of the Crawfish River north from the city of Cahokia, and why they left.

WHS Press: What do you want your readers to learn from this book?

That a world class cultural wonder is located within their midst. Quite a bit about it is known through archaeological and historical research, but there are still many mysteries that stir the imagination. It is Wisconsin's Stonehenge.

WHS Press: What do you find most fascinating about Aztalan?

The grip it has on visitors. People are genuinely moved by visits and become very attached to the site because of its scenic quality and mystery

WHS Press: How can this book serve as a guide to touring Aztalan State Park?

A chapter in the book actually walks the visitor around the site.

Interview with Lynne Goldstein

Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to write about the mysteries of Aztalan?

Aztalan is the most famous archaeological site in Wisconsin and it is in a prime location between Milwaukee and Madison, yet the general public knows very little about it. I would like people to have a greater appreciation for what is there.

WHS Press: What are your research interests concerning Aztalan?

My interests focus especially on the structure and layout of the site and how space was used within the site. I am interested in the organization of Aztalan and why the people who lived there put things where they did. I am also interested in Late Woodland and Mississippian ritual practices and mounds.

WHS Press: What do you want your readers to learn from this book?

I want readers to learn that about Wisconsin's ancient past, and that not all Indians were hunters and gatherers who lived in teepees. I would like them to come to appreciate the complexity of Aztalan and the degree of organization required to plan the layout of the town, build the mounds, and create the artifacts.

WHS Press: What do you find most fascinating about Aztalan?

The intricacies of its structure and plan.

WHS Press: How can this book serve as a guide to touring Aztalan State Park?

The book outlines many aspects of the site and life of Mississippian people, so the reader can use the book with its maps to walk around the park to try and visualize what life may have been like. You can stand on the mounds and try to picture the houses, the plaza, and the agricultural fields. You can try to imagine some of the ceremonies. Hopefully, people will be able to better imagine the ancient town of Aztalan.