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

Snowshoe Hike & Cross Country Ski at Wapello

February 8, 2020 @ 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Explore the trails of Wapello by snowshoe or ski and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies with the Friends of Wapello. With a nice layer of snow, wildlife tracks can be seen and traced around their habitat. The Friends of Wapello is a volunteer, civic organization created to promote, develop, and interpret the natural and archaeological […] Read More

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Woodcock Walk at Valley of Eden Bird Sanctuary

March 26, 2020 @ 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Woodcocks, also known as timberdoodles, are one of nature’s earliest signs of spring. Learn how the woodcock dances in the sky and on the ground to attract a mate. The Valley of Eden short grassland habitat is thriving with wildlife of all kinds and we invite you to join us in viewing the sunset showing […] Read More

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Wanted: Volunteer Bluebird Monitors

April 16, 2020 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Details to come!

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iNaturalist Workshop

May 13, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Learn how the popular nature app, iNaturalist, can help you learn about nature. By recording your nature observations on iNat, you’re creating research quality data for scientists to use around the world. This online community will help you identify and understand the environment around you. Check it out at https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/about. We will start indoors in […] Read More

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