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Resources for Archaeological Research

Resources for Archaeological Research | Wisconsin Historical Society

Below are resources suggested by the State Historic Preservation Office that may be useful to researchers working on archaeological sites in Wisconsin. This list is not comprehensive and you may find other resources that will be useful for your work.

Aerial Photographs

The Robinson Map Library has aerial photographs and photo-mosaics from 1930-1990. The photographs are valuable records of land use and are particularly useful to researchers working in forested areas. Clearings created by logging camps and farmstead are often visible on the early photographs, allowing surveyors to pinpoint areas of archaeological interest. Mound groups and other large sites may be visible on some aerial photographs as soil shadows in cultivated fields. Newer satellite imagery is available online.

Location: Robinson Map Library, 310 Science Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Archaeological Report Inventory

The Archaeological Report Inventory (ARI) is the database of archaeological investigations conducted in Wisconsin and maintained by the State Archaeologist. The ARI is part of the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Database.

Location: State Historic Preservation Office
Access: Information for accessing the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Database.

Archaeological Sites Inventory

The Archaeological Sites Inventory is the database of information maintained by the State Archaeologist for all identified archaeological and burial sites, unmarked cemeteries, marked cemeteries and cultural sites. The ASI is part of the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Database which researchers have a few options for gaining access.

Location: State Historic Preservation Office
Access: Information for accessing the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Database.

Charles E. Brown Atlas

The Charles E. Brown Atlas was actually completed by unknown parties using Brown's Manuscripts and the Wisconsin Record of Antiquities. It is a series of land ownership plats originally published by W. W. Hixon, Company in 1924. The plats are organized alphabetically by county with symbols indicating known archaeological sites and trails drawn on the plats using red ink.

Researchers should not assume that each symbol represents a single site located on the specific property shown on the plat. For example, a hypothetical entry might read “Mounds north of Bear Lake.” The corresponding portion of the Atlas might then depict three mound groups at random points north of the lake. Later researchers might incorrectly assume that three mound groups were located at the precise positions shown, when in fact the symbols merely indicate that an unknown number of mounds were present somewhere north of the lake. It is thus extremely important to match Atlas symbols to their source records, rather than using the Atlas alone.

Researchers may find that they cannot match some symbols to any source record. If this is the case, then there are three possible explanations.

1. The symbol was mis-mapped. This sometimes happened when sites were located in irregular Civil Townships containing more than one Section with the same number, and when multiple properties were owned by the same family.

2. The source record has either deteriorated, been lost, or was mis-filed. The Oversize boxes should be checked to ensure that the source was not filed there.

3. The symbol was placed on the map to indicate a site known to the compilers of the Atlas, but not to Brown.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: In four flat boxes shelved in the Archives Reading Room.

Charles E. Brown Manuscripts

The Charles E. Brown Manuscripts are materials created or collected by Brown from 1889-1945 and form the core of the Archaeological Sites Inventory (ASI). They include maps, locational information, site histories, and artifact tracings. The papers are organized by county and are divided by subject matter, civil township, and date.

Several important items are part of the collection including letters and field notebooks from many avocational archaeologists, newspaper clippings, and some of Increase Lapham's original survey notes and maps.

The collection is somewhat disorganized so we recommend checking the entire county file to ensure that all desired references are found. Because the papers were collected over decades from hundreds of different sources, it is not unusual to see a single site reported by several people under different site names. Care should also be taken when using maps or site reports personally completed by Brown, as he frequently had difficulty determining which way was north.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: Wis Mss HB, located in MAD 4/19/C4-5 and D1-4
Oversize materials are located in MAD 3/oversize/B3-4.

General Land Office Survey Plats and Field Notes


The General Land Office (GLO) Survey Plats were compiled beginning in the 1830s as Wisconsin was formally divided into the Public Land Survey System. The maps are watercolor and ink paintings bound in large plat books that depict vegetation, natural features, trails and roads, as well as Native American and Euro-American settlements. The GLO Survey Plats have not yet been integrated into the Wisconsin Archaeological Sites Inventory.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: Series 698. A finding aid is available in the Archives reading room.
Online Resources: The entire collection of the U.S. General Land Office Surveyors' Field Notes and Plats can be viewed online via UW-Madison Digital Collections.

Field Notes

Two sets of notes were kept by each surveyor. The first set describes vegetation, terrain and features encountered as the surveyor walked the “exterior” or Section lines within individual Townships. The second set describes features noted during “interior” surveys, when half and quarter-section lines were laid out. These notes provide valuable descriptions of vegetation and terrain prior to widespread Euro-American settlement. Surveyors would sometimes note mound groups, trails and other highly visible site types as they encountered them.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: Series 701. A finding aid is available in the Archives reading room.

Historic Maps

Numerous historic atlases, land ownership maps, plat maps and city plats are available at the Wisconsin Historical Society. These maps allow researchers to examine patterns of land use within their project areas and determine where former cemeteries and the remains of demolished structures might be found. Cemetery areas have been integrated into the Wisconsin ASI, but many other features on the historic maps have not. Researchers are strongly encouraged to consult as many historic maps as possible, covering the period between settlement and 1950.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: Please consult the card catalog for the map files for individual call numbers.
Online Resources: Historic maps may be examined in a number of places on the web, particularly at sites devoted to genealogical research. The David Rumsey map collection contains exploration-era maps as well as a statewide atlas produced in the 1870's.

Historic Photographs

The Society's image collection contains many photographs and paintings of interest to archaeological researchers. Those with project areas in urban settings may wish to browse the Wisconsin Place Files in the Archives reading room. Birds-eye views are available for many communities. Photographs of individual archaeological sites and mound groups are available in the Charles E. Brown photograph collection. Efforts are also currently underway to complete a catalog of ships and shipwrecks included in the Archives collections.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Online Resources: Portions of the Charles E. Brown photograph collections may be searched and viewed online via our Visual Materials Collection.

J. William Trygg Composite Maps

The Trygg maps combine information from the General Land Office and many other sources covering Minnesota and portions of Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Most of northern and central Wisconsin are included, though sheets for areas near the Minnesota and Michigan borders may be filed with those states. The Trygg maps, like the General Land Office maps, depict both Native American and Euro-American features. The Trygg maps have not yet been fully integrated into the Wisconsin ASI.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: H GX89 T87

The Northwestern Archaeological Survey Notebooks

The Northwestern Archaeological Survey Notebooks contain survey notes and data compiled by T. H. Lewis in the late 19th Century. His unpublished notebooks contain raw survey data for hundreds of mound sites in Wisconsin and adjoining states. Lewis was one of the most talented surveyors of his day and his maps are usually considered highly accurate. In cases where mound groups have been partially destroyed, the Lewis surveys allow “missing” mounds to be relocated with relative ease. All of the Lewis records have been integrated into the Archaeological Sites Inventory. Lewis compiled two types of notes. His main notebooks contain raw survey notes and sketch maps. He also created several “Supplementary” notebooks with lists of sites he either never visited or thought too disturbed to map.

Location: Access to this collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society must be arranged by contacting John Broihahn.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are maps of structures and land use in urban areas with detailed information about building materials, street addresses, and property boundaries. A number of editions are usually available for Wisconsin towns and cities, spanning the latter half of the 1800's and the early 1900's. The Sanborn maps are perhaps the most valuable resource available for project areas in urban settings.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Online Resources: Browse the Society's online collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.

The Wisconsin Archeologist

"The Wisconsin Archeologist" is the quarterly journal of the Wisconsin Archeological Society and the main source of information for many of Wisconsin's archaeological sites. Most sites mentioned in "The Wisconsin Archeologist" have been integrated into the Archaeological Sites Inventory. Researchers must take care to select their desired volumes from the correct series. The “Old Series,” noted in the Archaeological Sites Inventory as “OS,” was published 1901-1921. The “New Series” started again at #1 in 1922 and is noted as “NS” in the Archaeological Sites Inventory.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Library
Call Number: E 78 W8 W8

Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory (WLEI)

The Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory was conducted from 1927-1947 to create a detailed map of land use so that "unused" land could be identified and put to work. The final maps depict one Township per sheet, but field maps showing one Section per sheet are also available. The highly detailed field maps depict land cover, land use, structures, utility and transportation corridors, natural features and even the location of game animals. Incorporated areas, some Reservations, and some National Forests were not surveyed. The WLEI surveys have not yet been fully integrated into the ASI.

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives
Call Number: Series 1956
Online Resources: View the Wisconsin Land Economic Inventory (WLEI) final (township) maps online from the University of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Record of Antiquities

The first Record of Antiquities was published in the fifth volume of "The Wisconsin Archeologist" in 1906. It is organized alphabetically by county and civil township. Each listing contains one or more site summaries followed by a footnote indicating their original source.

More records were published in a series of Additions. The first was included as an appendix to the original Record of Antiquities in 1906. Four others were published in "The Wisconsin Archeologist" in 1908, 1909, 1911 and 1925. Corrections to some records may be found at the end of each Addition. The final, or Fifth, Addition duplicates many of the entries published in earlier volumes, and was apparently intended to serve as an updated version of the entire Record of Antiquities.

The Wisconsin Record of Antiquities is a rough guide to material located in the Charles E. Brown Manuscripts. Researchers wishing to track down individual site references in the Brown Manuscripts can use the site entry footnotes to determine who reported the site to Brown and when.

However, researchers should be aware that records may not specify exact locations or may conflate several sites into one record. Site records may be repeated in later Additions (particularly the last).

Location: Wisconsin Historical Society Library
Call Number: E 78 W8 W8

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Have Questions?

Contact John Broihahn by phone at 608-264-6496 or by email below: