Mid-America Geographic Foundation

The Griffiths Petroform Site

Jack Steinbring

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Ripon College

October 5, 2009  

         On Sunday, October 4, 2009, a crew of seven completed the clearing of one of the reported petroforms at the Griffiths Site north of Rosendale.  The feature lies in an oak-hickory woods, surrounded by low ground usually wet in the spring.  This is common to many petroform sites in Central Wisconsin.  Several trees and extensive low growth were removed in order to clearly demarcate the feature.

         Upon full exposure it turned out to be a large crescent, the first clearly formed one so far known in the Midwest.  It is 7.4 m long at its fullest extension and 1.9 m wide at the center of the arc.  Most of the boulders are large and deeply imbedded.  There is virtually no piling.  All of the placed boulders are heavily patinated, with several overlapping lichen colonies apparent.  Most of the lichen is fine-grained crustose, with only a small amount of bright green foliose lichen recently starting to form.

         There are many other boulders scattered throughout the woods, apparently random, but certainly potential candidates for orderly patterns when mapped in detail.

         The initial investigation of this site was accomplished by David and Jennifer Tovar of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.  This is the first time that full clearing has been done, and it fully confirms the Tovar assessment of their findings of intact petroforms.


         The finding of an intact crescent appears to be unique.  Since crescents almost always represent the moon in world ethnology, this becomes the first alternative in seeking an explanation of the petroform morphology.  Many indigenous populations in the Midwest have lunar mythology, and the Ojibwa have graphically represented the moon in birchbark scrolls used as mnemonic devices in the Midewiwin, or 'Grand Medicine Society'.  In prehistoric culture of Wisconsin the moon is represented in copper crescents commonly found in complex Old Copper burials dating to the Late Archaic ca 3-3,500 B.P.  (Steinbring 1975: 268-289).  Future research at Griffiths will include the use of a gridded metal detector scan.  There is, however, no known solid evidential precedent for such antiquity for petroforms.

         The Griffiths Petroform Site shows substantial potential for the illumination of this interesting prehistoric symbolic behavior.


References Cited


Steinbring, John H.

         1975           Taxonomic and Associational Considerations of Copper
                           Technology During the Archaic Tradition, Doctoral

                           Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, University of

                           Minnesota, Minneapolis.


Fig. 1          The Griffiths crescent petroform, cleared of vegetation on

                  October 4, 2009.  Photo by author.