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Points of Interest

Observatory Hill Mounds

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Madison, Wisconsin USA

  • Scenic Point
  • Tourist Attraction
  • Native Culture
  • Historic Site

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Although we often refer to Bascom Hill and Observatory Hill as separate geographical features, they are actually parts of a single glacial drumlin—a deposit of sand and gravel left behind by the last retreat of the glaciers in this region some 12,000 or so years ago. As the glaciers departed and the climate continued to warm, plants and animals advanced into the region to occupy newly exposed soils and habitats. Not far behind these organisms, the first humans ventured into the Four Lakes region. Evidence of human inhabitants representing cultures from this post-glacial period (referred to by archaeologists as the Paleo-Indian Tradition) is relatively rare. However, a projectile point associated with the Paleo-Indian Tradition has been recovered from the top of Observatory Hill.It is no surprise that the earliest people to inhabit this area would have been attracted to this prominent place. There seems to be a longstanding human affinity for high places like this one—especially where the view includes bodies of water. For many of us, taking in the broad sweep of land and water is a calming experience that refreshes the spirit.Perhaps the spiritual attraction of high places can explain why ancestors of modern-day Wisconsin Indians chose to create effigy burial moundshere nearly 1000 years ago. We know that at one time there were at least five mounds on Observatory Hill. Today, only two are easily visible—in the shapes of a bird and a unique form known as a two-tailed water spirit. These two mounds are so special that they were recently listed on the National Register for Historic Places.In addition to the burial mounds here, we also know that at the base of this hill there once stood an ancient Indian village site. The precise boundaries of this site are not known, but preliminary archaeological testing indicates that part of the village was north and east of Tripp Hall. It is possible that the village once extended eastward over areas that have now been disturbed by nineteenth-century farming and by the construction of Lot 34.

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Observatory Hill Mounds

Madison, Wisconsin USA

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February 19, 2014

when I say this place is the shit, I mean THIS PLACE IS THE SHIT

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