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 Specific Sites

Western Wisconsin Rock Art Sites

Rock art images that are carved or painted onto rock surfaces, are visual symbols that ancient peoples used to convey meaning in the absence of a written language.  Even though we often do not understand the exact meaning the images had for the people who made them, they are still beautiful connections to those who inhabited the earth before us.  Rock art stimulates our imaginations to ponder what life was like for the people who lived where we now live.  It encourages us to consider how their lives were different and in some ways similar to our own.

This section contains information about nine rock art sites in southwestern Wisconsin.  Use this web site to see otherwise inaccessible examples of the some of the area's rock art.

 

Gullickson

Gullickson's Glen is a small overhanging rock shelter located in the Driftless Area of southwestern Wisconsin.  Petroglyphs at the site occur at the center and on either edge of the shelter.  The central panel contains the most petroglyphs but these are difficult to see due to a growth of moss and lichen on the petroglyphs.  Findings suggest that Native Americans were occupying the rockshelter as long as 2000 years ago, although the petroglyphs probably do not date farther back than 800 years ago.  Excavations at the site have uncovered remnants of Middle Woodland and Oneota occupancy.  Quartzite implements possibly used for making petroglyphs were found in the Oneota level.  Excavations uncovered numerous potsherds, quartzite knives, rubbing stones, a fragment of a pottery pipe and charcoal.  Bones from deer, elk, fish, turkey, bear, and mountain lion were also recovered.

Petroglyphs at Gullickson's Glen have been interpreted as: a bison nursing her calf, deer, elk, eagles, fish, geese, swans, thunderbirds, and human figures.

Outside view of Gullickson's Glen
Outside view of Gullickson's Glen
 Looking out of Gullickson's Glen
Looking out of Gullickson's Glen

 

 1958 excavations at Gullickson's Glenn
1958 excavations at Gullickson's Glen
 Pottery recovered at Gullickson's Glen
Pottery recovered at Gullickson's Glen
Central panel
Central panel
The central panel contains the most petroglyphs but these are difficult to see due to a growth of moss and lichen on the petroglyphs.  However, petroglyphs on either side of the central panel show less damage from mosses and lichen.

 Line drawing of central panel

Click here for larger image of line drawing

Petroglyphs of four geese
Petroglyphs of four geese
 Line drawing of petroglyphs of four geese
 Petroglyphs of four geese
The top and bottom pictures are of the same petroglyphs taken at different times.  Over time, mosses and lichens have covered them.  The four geese from the top picture are now more difficult to see.  Since the bottom photograph was taken, this section of the wall has fallen and these petroglyphs have since been destroyed.
Deer head
Deer Head
 Deer head line drawing
Wolf
Wolf
 Wolf line drawing
Bison nursing her calf
A bison nursing her calf
 Bison nursing her calf line drawing

 

Deer or elk
Deer or elk
Deer or elk line drawing

 

Deer or elk
Deer or elk
 Deer or elk line drawing
Fish
Fish
 Fish line drawing
Human figure
Human figures
 Human figures line drawing

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Hanson

Petroglyphs are carved into a sandstone outcrop near the top of a large ridge overlooking the Kickapoo River Valley.  Three complete bird figures and the wing of a fourth figure are visible.  Because the sandstone is soft and some areas are badly eroded, there may have been more than the four figures that are currently visible.  If the erosion continues at its present rate another figure will be lost in the near future.  A possible interpretation of the petroglyphs is that they may be humans in disguise or possible spirit beings.
 
 View of Hanson petroglyphs
View of Hanson petroglyphs
 Bird petroglyphs
 Bird petroglyphs
 Line drawing of bird petroglyphs
Bird petroglyphs

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Indian Cave

Indian cave is a narrow, low, natural fissure cave/shelter containing prehistoric petroglyphs.  Regional comparisons suggest that prehistoric activity in the cave probably dates to the late prehistoric period, ca. 250 B.C. to 1500 A.D., although no diagnostic artifacts have been found in the vicinity.  A panel of petroglyphs and two petroglyphs opposite the panel are present in the cave.
 
 Archaeologist in Indian Cave
Archaeologists in Indian Cave
Petroglyph panel
 Petroglyph panel

 Petroglyph panel line drawing

Petroglyphs panel

The panel consists of at least nine petroglyphs with a variety of figures represented.  Possibly representing a story panel, it shows (from left to right): two seated human figures, one of which is in profile, with an abstract bird-like figure and pipe figure perched about the shoulder of the first human; an abstract group of carvings (possible mammals); a standing human figure wearing headgear with arms outstretched; a large bow strung with arrows pointed toward a large mammal figure with a hand representation to the left of its head; a large hand representation at the rear of the animal; and finally a long curved line underscoring the complete panel.

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Larson

Larson Cave is a shallow naturally-formed cave/shelter containing prehistoric petroglyphs and prehistoric occupation debris.  Regional comparisons suggest that prehistoric activity in the shelter probably dates to the late prehistoric period, ca. 250 B.C. to 1500 A.D., although no diagnostic artifacts have been recovered from the site to date.  A panel of figures is visible at the entrance to the cave and additional markings are also located within the cave.

Archaeologist in Larson Cave
Archaeologist in Larson Cave
Petroglyph panel at the entrance to Larson Cave
Petroglyph panel at the entrance to Larson Cave line drawing
Petroglyph panel at the entrance to Larson Cave

The panel consists of two rows of mostly human stick-like figures, some joined together at the arms and some standing alone.  The figures appear to have gender designations and vary in size with "males" slightly taller than "females".  Three small "male" figures appear in the top row.  One figure appears to be carrying something in his hand: another appears to be wearing headgear.  A group of two figures and a group of three figures are each joined at the arms.  Several other carvings appear in this panel, mostly circles or lines or circles and lines in various combinations.  A long groove underlines the panel of figures.  This panel is the first thing visible to anyone approaching the cave.  One suggested interpretation is that they may represent a mythical, ancestral or corporal social group who would be recognizable to anyone approaching the cave.

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Running Deer

The Running Deer petroglyphs are located in the same area as the Twin Bluffs petroglyphs.  Since no cultural materials have been found at the site, an age for the creation of the petroglyphs cannot be determined.  The petroglyphs become faint as they are exposed to the weather and are slowly eroded away.
 
 Recording Running Deer petroglyphs
Recording Running Deer petroglyphs
 View from Running Deer petroglyphs
View from Running Deer petroglyphs
Petroglyphs of a mammal figure
Petroglyph of a mammal figure
 Petroglyph of a mammal figure line drawing
Petroglyph of two human figures
Petroglyph of two human figures
 Petroglyph of two human figures line drawing

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Samuel

Samuel's Cave is a naturally-formed rockshelter containing prehistoric petroglyphs and pictographs that probably date to the Oneota occupation of the La Crosse area, (ca. 1300 to 1600 A.D.).  The rockshelter was discovered in 1878 by a boy, Frank Samuels, while trapping raccoons.  It had been sealed for at least 150 years by landslides of soil and rock coming down from the cliffs above.  At the time of discovery, the carvings and drawings on the walls of the rockshelter were reported to be in good to excellent condition.  Weather damage and vandalism over the past 110 years have obliterated many but not all of the prehistoric figures.  In prehistoric times, the rockshelter was probably used as a winter camp, and/or a special activity area.

Entrance to Samuel's Cave
Entrance to Samuel's Cave

Entrance to Samuel's Cave

 Looking our of Samuel's Cave
Looking out of Samuel's Cave

 Inside Samuel's Cave

Inside Samuel's Cave

Petroglyph of a human figure waring headgear
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petroglyph of a human figure wearing headgear

 Line drawing of petroglyph of a human figure wearing headgear
 Pictographic panel
 Pictographic panel line drawing

Pictographic panel

Pictographic panel which possibly portrays in abstract form, a variety of animal forms

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Tainter

This ancient deep cave site is filled with the most comprehensive set of prehistoric paintings in the Upper Midwest.  More than one hundred paintings and carvings are located in the cave, all magnificently preserved.  The art includes birds, deer, humans, and abstract designs.  This is a site of national and perhaps international importance.

Sky and earth scene Sky and earth scene
Sky scene Sky scene
Headless human Headless human
Birdman Birdman
Bird Bird
Bow hunter Bow hunter
Deer hunters Deer hunters
Deer one Deer 1
Deer two Deer 2
Pregnant deer Pregnant deer
Running deer Running deer
Long horned bison Long horned bison
Abstract Abstract

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Twin Bluff

The Twin Bluffs petroglyphs occur on a small, flat, vertical rock face with a small rock ledge at the base.  Regional comparisons suggest that prehistoric activity in the shelter probably dates to the late prehistoric period, ca. 250 B.C. to 1500 A.D., although no diagnostic artifacts have been recovered from the vicinity of the site.  Petroglyphs at the Twin Bluffs site include: five complete thunderbird figures, two partial thunderbird figures, one bird in profile, one mammal, and one mushroom-like figure.

 Looking up at Twin Bluffs
Looking up at Twin Bluffs
 Thunderbird figures
 Thunderbird figures line drawing
 Thunderbird figures
Thunderbird figures

Plaster waste visible around the thunderbird figure (top image) is left over from early attempts at recording the petroglyphs by making plaster casts.  Removal of the waste material is not possible without damaging the original petroglyphs.  This is an example of how even well intentioned efforts to save the petroglyphs can inadvertently cause damage.

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Viola

The Viola Rockshelter is situated part way up a small ravine in the bluffs that form the deeply cut Kickapoo River Valley.  In 1986 salvage excavations were undertaken and four periods of occupation were found ranging from ca. 1500 B.C. to 1000 A.D.  It is undetermined which if any occupation created the petroglyphs.  Three groups of figures compose the petroglyph panel.

 Outside Viola Rockshelter
Outside Viola Rockshelter
Possible boat on water with a human figure inside
Possible boat on water with a human figure inside
Possible boat on water with a human figure inside line drawing
Possible dwelling or tepee with a human figure alongside
Possible dwelling or tepee with a human figure alongside line drawing
Possible dwelling or tepee with a human figure alongside

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The Rock Art web site was paid for by a grant from the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Foundation

 
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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.