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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

at the University of Wisconsin--LaCrosse, WI

"The human story of western Wisconsin spans 12,000 years, from the first Native Americans to today's diverse rural and urban populations. Over the past one hundred years, archaeologists have recorded and investigated thousands of sites left by western Wisconsin's earlier inhabitants. Through the study of these sites and their accompanying artifacts archaeologists are working to reconstruct the unique and changing lifeways of the region's early inhabitants."--from Past Cultures at the MVAC Website.


The mission of the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center is to provide education about the science of archaeology and the ancient cultures of the upper Mississippi River Valley to the general public, teachers, undergraduate students, and precollegiate students; to conduct research and exploration of archaeological sites and artifacts; to preserve archaeological artifacts of ancient cultures which flourished within the upper Mississippi Valley; and to provide a regional center to promote an understanding of the prior inhabitants of this region.

An ancient Clovis point

An ancient Clovis point

Archaeology Center and Laboratories

A visit to the newly remodeled laboratory facility will allow you to view displays of artifacts recovered from local excavations, as well as, displays describing the process of archaeology. Displays are available for viewing most weekdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm in the UW-L Archaeology Laboratory and Center. The displays may be closed on some days when all staff members are in the field. Please call in advance to be sure that the building will be open by calling 608-785-8454.

Excuvation Dig

Some of the subjects at the Archaeology Center and Laboratories include Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, Oneota, a 6,000-10,000 year-old bison skull from Buffalo County, pottery from the Oneota culture, replicas of local rock art sites, timeline of a typical western Wisconsin site and displays of how artifacts are brought from the field to the lab.

Deep Cave

Deep Cave Photo

Deep Cave

The Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center (MVAC) has announced a major archaeological discovery in southwestern Wisconsin - an ancient, deep cave filled with more than 100 rare drawings and carvings. According to the Center, it is the most comprehensive set of Native American paintings in the Upper Midwest. Radiocarbon dating has dated some of these drawings at 1100 years old.

"It is the most significant discovery in MVAC’s history," according to Jim Gallagher, MVAC Executive Director.

Daniel Arnold, an amateur archaeologist from Southwest Wisconsin, made the discovery. He realized the site was being destroyed by vandalism, so he contacted the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. The site was visited by MVAC’s Regional Archaeologist Robert "Ernie" Boszhardt in late 1998.

"I was stunned", recalls Boszhardt. "The walls and ceiling contain nearly 100 charcoal drawings of birds, humans, and deer. Many are beyond natural light in the dark zone of the cave, and birch bark torches were found on the floor along with a hide moccasin."

The paintings portray a whole new style of art. Some panels depict recognizable actions such as a group of bow hunters taking several deer, including pregnant does, in the late winter. This panel is directly beneath a group of birds, bird feet, and feathers representing a classic example of Native American separation of earth and sky. Another appears to represent an infant bound within a cradle board.

MVAC organized a team of experts including colleagues from UW-La Crosse and institutions as far away as West Virginia, Georgia and Texas to painstakingly document the discovery with drawings and photographs. At the same time, strategies were developed to restrict access to the cave and preserve it for future study. The location of the cave is being kept secret, to further protect the cave’s contents.--from the MVAC Deep Cave Press Release--MVAC "Specific Sites" Page

Headless Human Petroglyph

Ancient Rock Drawing from Deep Cave

Getting Involved

Check out the calendar of events at MVAC here!

The Mississippi Valley Archeological Center Website is a great place to find out about the work that MVAC is doing. It is filled with information, links, updates on projects and activities, resources, and guides as to how you can get involved. For all those who are interested in what was in Wisconsin in ancient times as well as archaeology in general, this is an invaluable source of information. Spend some time and have a look around their website

Special thanks to the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center for the use of pictures and text. All pictures and text copyright MVAC.


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