The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By Julian Smith

COVER IMAGE: Effigy Mounds’ officials bought so many new pieces of construction equipment that a shed was built to hold them. The shed was built upon the remnants of a conical mound.  |  Credit: NPS

During the Late Woodland Period (A.D. 600-1250), the residents of what would become northeast Iowa built numerous earthen mounds on bluffs along the Mississippi River. They fashioned low hills in the shapes of panthers, bears, deer, birds, and other creatures, as well as conical mounds used to house burials, and long rectangular mounds for unknown purposes. In 1949, Effigy Mounds National Monument was established to protect these constructions from farmers’ plows and looters’ shovels. For two decades, archaeologists with the National Park Service (NPS) excavated within the park, uncovering human remains, ceramic sherds, and other artifacts. Some of the funerary items ended up on display in the visitors center. Today, twenty Native American tribes are affiliated with the 2,526-acre site, which contains the largest concentration of effigy mounds in the world.

Effigy Mound’s scandals occurred during the tenures of superintendents Tom Munson (L) and Phyllis Ewing (R). | Credit: NPS
Human remains were found in former superintendent Tom Munson’s garage. The box in front of the minivan contains the remains. | Credit: NPS
A portion of the Nazekaw Terrace Boardwalk which was stopped by NPS officials mid-construction and subsequently removed.  It was built upon an archaeological site. | Credit: NPS

It might seem obvious that the leadership of a park created to protect prehistoric mounds would make it a priority to preserve them and anything found inside them. But scandals involving two of the monument’s former superintendents have rocked the NPS. “This is the first time I have witnessed the NPS take a good hard look in the proverbial mirror,” said David Barland-Liles, the lead ranger at Effigy Mounds. “It isn’t pretty.”


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