Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Turtles All the Way Down

by Marlo Amelia Buzzell’10

Drawing by Jacob Furnald '97
"How many turtles does it take to climb all the way down to the beginning of Beloit’s love for this creature?"
All of them, is the easy answer.
"The author takes note of everything around Beloit named after turtles: Turtle Creek, Turtle Township. The local minor-league baseball team is the Beloit Snappers. There’s an ancient turtle-shaped effigy mound. Give the school enough money and you become a member of the Chapin Society and receive a turtle pin. The English department’s literary magazine used to be called The Turtle. The president and commencement speakers have work turtle references into their speeches, knowing what works in a Beloit room. The whole thing is goofy fun and I’ll bet was widely read. 
Plus, it included this priceless picture of the 1947 synchronized swimming team performing a water ballet with lighted candles. They were called The Terrapins. Some of the best stuff is the stuff you can’t make up..."

Museum Mondays: rare photos document earthen mounds (including our turtle) April 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm

"Back in 1919, long before Google Earth or even standardized aerial photography, Wisconsin archaeologists were seeking ways to photograph the state’s distinctive effigy mounds. Because most mounds in the region are no more than two or three feet in height, photographers had great difficulty making pictures that showed mound topography and edges.
Enter George R. Fox, a self-taught and avid avocational archaeologist. Fox (1880-1963) was somewhat of a Renaissance man and polymath: a mail carrier, department store owner, museum curator and director, and, from 1924 to 1939—longer than anyone else—secretary-treasurer (later, president) of the Central Section of the American Anthropological Association (later the Central States Anthropological Society.)
After some experimenting, Fox developed a workable method of photographing mounds. In the spring or fall, he would outline them with a continuous band of whitewash (later, powdered lime); then he would generally haul his camera to a nearby high point and take an oblique photograph of the mound. He often used a rope to climb trees; “this was not always attended without mishap,” he wrote..."

The relics of the mound builders which have many peculiar ;features in our state, are being so rapidly destroyed by a mater.ial civilization, that any facts in regard to them which come into 'the possesion of any one, should be carefully preserved.
Portions of a human skeleton having been found in a so called Turtle mound in Beloit, by a company of my former students, I have collected by inquiry and observation the facts in regard to this mound as far as I have been able.
About half a mile north of the college grounds upon the east side of Rock river, and on a bluff overlooking the river, is a cluster of twelve mounds, somewhat thickly crowded together. They occupy an area 500 to 600 feet in length and 200 in width, the longer being parallel with the river. Three of them are of imitative shapes and might be called Turtle mounds. Of the others four are conical and five elipsoidal.
* This article was prepared by Prof. Katon, of Beloit College a short time before his death. It was placed in the hands of the editor by Prof. Emerson a year or two since. It is given here under correspondence as containing useful information which should not he lost.
They are figured in Dr. Lapham's Smithsonian Contributions, Vol. VII, 1855, and are alluded to by him in a brief paragraph,
P- 33
The largest of these is a Turtle mound, being a little north of the center of the group. The body is sixty-four feet long and the tail 52, the body being about three feet high.
The opening was made at random in the head, a little in front of the central line of the front legs. The question of interest attached to this mound is whether this burial was a primitive or secondary one, for, as I understand, it is supposed the conical mounds alone were used for sepulcheral purposes by the mound builders, and that the mounds of imitative shapes are the oldest.
The excavation was through black loam, resembling that which forms a thin layer upon the gravel drift of which the hill consists. This seems, therefore, to be an exception to the general statement made by Dr. Lapham, that "the animal shaped mounds and accompanying oblongs and ridges are composed of whitish clay or of the subsoil of the country," while it corresponds with his statement that "the burial mounds are usually composed of black mould or loam." Whether the earth was scraped up from the immediate neighborhood, it is difficult tosay. If there is a depression around the mound it is too slight to enable one to assert its existence positively.
The bones were found after excavating about three feet. Those who made the excavations said the earth was packed very tightly, especially just above the bones. They also said that above the bones was a layer of gravel. Upon a subsequent visit I could not find any traces of this gravel, but it may have been covered up by the earth thrown out afterwards, and I have no reason to doubt the statement.
That the body was buried on or very near the original surface of the ground is evident from the fact, that after the bones had been removed, at a subsequent visit, I found a piece of the tibia still imbedded. Then below was one foot of the dark earth, then eight inches of gravel and then fine sand. Going outside a few feet beyond the line where the slope of the moand crossed the sand the same order was found, viz., one foot of soil, eight inches of gravel and then fine sand.
This would seem to imply both that the body was buried on the natural surface and that the material of the mound was not scraped up from the immediate vicinity.
The bones consisted of the left foot, of the frontal bone, and parts of the two perietal bones of the skull. They were very fragile and only held together by the earth contained in them. 

Most of the teeth were present, imbedded in the earth inside the skull. They were in good condition. Twelve or more pieces of bones were found, among which were recognized a part of the tibia and humerus, also parts of either ulna, radius or fibula. There were several phalanges and a few very visible pieces of the bones of the pelvis, a part of one of the sockets for the former being found.
The body was evidently not interred in an extended position, for the bones were together, the pieces of the skull resting on some of the other bones.
A few very small pieces of red pottery were found, also the jaw of a small carniverous animal. There were no implements of any kind.
I leave the subject without expressing an opinion as to the age of the interment, for there are doubtless those present, who are better able to render one than I am, and all the known facts are now before you. S. Eaton.

The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Volumes 5-6  By Stephen Denison Peet


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