Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve

Not only does Casper Bluff Land & Water Reserve boast some of the most commanding views of the Mississippi River and its backwater sloughs, it is also an archaeologically significant site. The 85-acre site contains the Aiken Mound Group, named for the nearby community of Aiken. Our knowledge of these mounds stems from 1900, when William Baker Nickerson, an amateur archaeologist who worked for the railroads, documented 51 mounds at this location: 38 long, wall-like structures, 12 conical mounds, and one thunderbird effigy. Nickerson also observed an earth ellipse or hut-ring and two circular depressions.

Nickerson’s limited excavation of the mounds in 1900 produced pottery fragments, indicating the fill may have come from a nearby habitation site. Archaeologists from the University of Chicago visited the site in 1926; however, only 40 mounds were observed at that time. In 2006, Phil Millhouse from the University of Illinois was able to relocate Nickerson’s original map, kept at the Illinois State Museum. Using GIS technology, the location of all 51 mounds documented by Nickerson have been identified. At the present, however, only 20 mounds can be visually identified on the ground surface. Agricultural cropping and grazing have no doubt affected the integrity of the mounds.

The Aiken Mound Group is part of the larger Effigy Mound culture that existed between A.D. 700 and A.D. 1000 in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. While most of what is known about the site is based on the mounds themselves, there is a possibility that there may still be intact archaeological features among the mounds. Skeletal remains from the Aiken Mounds have been found in adjacent crop fields. Habitation sites, while not mapped, were thought to occur in the nearby low-lying fields east of the steep river bluffs where the ceremonial mounds are located.

While the Effigy Mound peoples are thought to have abandoned the region after A.D. 1000, as late as 1875 members of the Ho-Chunk Nation performed ceremonies in the vicinity of Aiken Mounds and constructed a burial mound for the son of their leader, Green Blanket. This burial site is thought to be located one mile east of the reserve within the bottomlands of Small Pox Creek.

Upcoming Events

The Watershed Game – Training the Trainer Workshop

July 20 @ 9:30 am - 5:00 pm

The Watershed Game is an interactive tool that helps individuals understand the connection between land use and water quality. League of Women Voter members and Rotary Club members from Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, staff from conservation land trust organizations, Extension and Sea Grant educators, teachers and informal science educators, and community members from the surrounding […] Read More

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Meteors on the Mound

August 12 @ 7:00 pm - 11:00 pm

JDCF and the Planetary Studies Foundation (PSF) invite the public to a night sky viewing event. As part of the Perseid meteor shower that will be taking place, PSF planetary geologist, Dr. Paul Sipiera will be sharing his expertise in the area of meteorites beginning around 7:30 p.m. At 8:30 p.m., Diane Sipiera, Executive Director of […] Read More

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Creatures of the Night: Owls & Bats

October 21 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Learn about some of our nocturnal friends, owls and bats. This program, geared towards a middle school grade level, introduces the life cycle of the owl and its food and habitat. It also identifies the characteristics that make the owl a perfect predator and member of the raptor family. Participants will get to dissect an […] Read More

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Owl Prowl

December 2 @ 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Join us for an evening owl-prowl hike at Casper Bluff.  This year, we will be joined by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education Center who will bring along a few of their feathered friends for an educational program and meet and greet with live owls before we head out on the trails. There will be […] Read More

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