Wisconsin Loves Archaeology

By Joel Waldinger | November 18, 2021


Here in Wisconsin, there is one place like no other. It’s a special place in the ancient world and it’s a special place today. A place where nearly a thousand years ago the land laid witness to a native, sun worshipping culture long before European presence on this continent. This place is Aztalan. Sissel Schroeder is a professor at the University of Wisconsin and Chair of the Anthropology Department. She said, “I think there are many people who would argue that this is the most important archeological site in Wisconsin.”

It’s at this site where Sissel had dedicated a career to discovery. Today there are echoes of this ancient civilization if you simply know where to look. Sissel and her students find the work rewarding and yet challenging, “We’re just working with small shards and pieces of the past to try and build a picture of the people who lived here. I try to close my eyes and think about what that would have been like as people moved through this community.”

Sissel has done extensive research on the site. She first started working here as a graduate student attending UW-Milwaukee and was drawn to Aztalan’s landmarks. From a bird’s-eye view, probably the most prominent thing that you might initially notice is the palisade wall. It offered a real kind of sense of protection for the more than 600 people who lived inside this village. Only seven percent of the site has been excavated and there is still a wealth of answers for Sissel to uncover.

Growing up in Wisconsin she says she just can’t think of a better life or career and being able to come back and teach at Wisconsin’s flagship university is beyond her wildest imaginings. Sissel said, “It’s a great field to be in, if you have a relentless curiosity. I really like surprises. I really like the not necessarily knowing for certain what I’m going to find.” She feels a strong sense of pride for her students and her home state, “I think one of the things that is incredibly special about being an archeologist in Wisconsin is how enthusiastic people in Wisconsin are about everything having to do with Wisconsin. And it really doesn’t matter where I go in the state. People are just fascinated and intrigued about what I’m learning about the past. People in Wisconsin love Wisconsin.”

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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