Public Day at Aztalan State Park offers a glimpse into the past

On Friday, June 16, from 10 am until 3 pm, the UW–Madison Laboratory of Wisconsin Archaeology will host a special public day at Aztalan State Park in Jefferson County, in a showcase of the archaeological artifacts, current excavation work and rich cultural history that can be found at this important prehistoric site in southeastern Wisconsin. It will also present an opportunity for people to hear more about the educational opportunities Aztalan has provided to students at nearby Fort Atkinson Middle School, some of whom may be on hand to talk about what they have learned.

UW–Madison Anthropology Professor Sissel Schroeder has long studied the site and today runs a field course for undergraduate students who are actively excavating at Aztalan. The site, now a National Historic Landmark, is the home of an ancient social experiment, where roughly 1,000 years ago the Late Woodland people that called the land along the banks of the Crawfish River their home merged with immigrants from Cahokia, a large prehistoric city near St. Louis.

Schroeder and her students are investigating how these groups of people combined their differing beliefs and practices to create a joint community. Theories abound about life at ancient Aztalan and the discoveries Schroeder and her students have found are challenging existing ideas about the site and its people.

The work here has received additional support the last two years through an Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment grant. Linda Orie, a graduate student in Curriculum and Instruction, is also supported by the project and has begun development of a K-12 curriculum centered on Aztalan, intended for use by Wisconsin teachers and students across the state. Over the last year, Orie, Schroeder, students and others associated with the project have visited classrooms throughout the region, invited Girl Scouts and other youth groups into the lab on the UW campus, and have participated in the Wisconsin Science Festival.

The June 16th public day is hosted by Schroeder, UW Communications science writer Kelly Tyrrell (co-lead on the Baldwin project), the nonprofit Friends of Aztalan and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. A Wisconsin State Parks pass is required for entry into Aztalan State Park, which is located at N6200 County Road Q, Jefferson. Admission stickers can be purchased in advance on the Department of Natural Resources website or at the self-registration booth at the park (cash or check only).. News media, area residents, schoolchildren and student groups, civic leaders and others are invited to attend.