Sturgeon Bay, Wis. (September 13, 2022) – On Tuesday, September 27, the Door County Master Gardeners Association (DCMGA) will present a lecture by Dr. Robert Jeske discussing the role humans have made in the landscape and the prehistoric development of horticulture in Wisconsin called “The Myth of Unspoiled Wilderness.” This program is offered in collaboration with Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula in conjunctions with Crossroads at Big Creek’s 2022 Fall Archaeology Experience.
Archaeological research has shown that our environment is not untouched by humans, but rather is an intricate community of plants and animals in which humans have played a fundamental part. In Wisconsin, humans have been the single most important species in determining the structure of the environment since the last glaciers receded 12, 000 years ago.
First Peoples began the occupation of Wisconsin as hunters, shaping the animal and plant community, and possibly hastening the extinction of megafauna such as mammoths. Through time, people selectively harvested and husbanded local plants including nut trees. By 5,000 years ago, they used fire to maintain forest/prairie boundaries and expand savanna ecotones.
By 3,000 years ago, First Peoples made extensive gardens, growing plants such as squash and sunflowers. 1000 years ago, they cleared fields for growing a Mexican import, maize (corn) which quickly became a major source of food.
When Europeans came to this region, they often depicted First People as nomads, wandering in a wilderness, only using what nature provided. The Myth of Wilderness and itinerant people created a slanted view of the environment that brings forth images of virgin and natural landscapes to this day.
Archaeological investigations at Crossroads give insight into the past, showing how First Peoples lived and left behind the landscapes which we now endeavor to conserve and restore.
Dr. Robert J. Jeske is Professor emeritus of the Department of Anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the Adjunct Curator of Anthropology at the Milwaukee Public Museum. For the past three years, he has led a team of professional archaeologists in digs at the Crossroads Ida Bay Preserve and the Cove Estuary Preserve in Sturgeon Bay. He his wife and greyhound dogs live in Glendale Wisconsin.