Artistic Expression

How did people express themselves artistically? What kinds of things did they use for personal adornment? Many different materials were used for art, but in Wisconsin wood, leather, and basketry have not survived. A variety of stone, bone, and antler objects have been found. We aren't sure of their meaning, and these items may have had ritual as well as artistic significance.

Engraved Stone

Some stones have been found that have been engraved with either abstract designs, or what appear to be thunderbirds, human figures, deer, bison, and so forth. These objects may have represented a type of portable art, or may have had other significance to the society.

This piece of catlinite shows the shoulder of a deer or bison with a heartline


Carved Stones

Some stones were carved into different shapes, such as birds, particularly raptors.

This carving of a bird was found at an Oneota site.
These pieces of carved catlinite may have been part of a Thunderbird design

Clay Figurines

Some figurines were made from fired clay. They give us hints as to how people may have dressed and acted in the past.

This figurine shows the lower legs of an individual sitting on his/her heels. Note the "skirt" across the back. The figurine dates to the Woodland Tradition.


Bone and Antler Ornaments

People have always taken joy in art and personal ornaments. Undoubtedly many ornaments were made of perishable materials such as leather, wood, feathers, reeds or quills, but have not survived. We find beads and other ornaments made of bone, shell, antler, and stone.

These bone artifacts may have been pendants or may have been part of needles.
This bead was made by cutting out a segment of a bird longbone and polishing the ends. Bird bones are hollow and would have been easier to make into beads than the denser mammal bones.


Rock Art

Rock art includes carvings (petroglyphs) and drawings or paintings (pictographs) Rock art occurs in many places around the world, and often represents the only preserved art of prehistoric cultures. These special reflections on the past erode through time, but often are damaged or destroyed by modern graffiti, and in some instances by theft. Archaeologists strive to preserve rock art through photography and mapping, and by fostering good stewardship.

This petroglyph of a deer head comes from Gullickson's Glen and may date to the Oneota Tradition