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The Crescent Bay Hunt Club Site:
Oneota in Southeast Wisconsin
Oneota pottery vessel sherd

Material compiled by Robert J. Jeske and Chrisie L. Hunter.
Page produced by Jamie Kelly.

Introduction to the Oneota

Oneota sites are found throughout much of the Midwest United States, from the eastern portion of Nebraska to the western parts of Michigan and Indiana (Figure 1). The sites are found as far north as Manitoba and Ontario and south into Missouri (Overstreet 1995: 33). Radiocarbon dates span approximately six centuries (circa A.D. 1000 - 1600), but not all regions were occupied equally in term of cultural styles and temporal periods. In southeastern Wisconsin, temporal limits have been suggested from as early as A.D. 923 to as late as A.D. 1720, although both the early and late dates are questionable (cf. Boszhardt et al. 1995; Overstreet 2000). We see significant variation in material culture throughout the Oneota Tradition due to its long duration as well as the large territories they occupied (Benchley et al. 1997: 159; Overstreet 1995: 33; Rodell 2000). This page will focus on southeastern Wisconsin, with specific reference to the Crescent Bay Hunt Club site.

Oneota site distribution
Figure 1. General map of Oneota site distribution

Oneota Taxonomy

The term phase is a component of a temporal and spatial taxonomic framework. A phase is a representation of a class of material culture that exhibits distinct characteristics that can be determined to be specific to a specific time period and a relatively restricted geographic range (Henning 1998: 12-13). A phase consists of a complex of traits that, in some cases, may be argued to represent cultural identity or ethnicity (Overstreet 1976: 15). There are six phases for Oneota occupation areas in Wisconsin (Figure 2). The Lake Koshkonong Phase (A.D. 950-1350) is located in Jefferson County, the Grand River Phase (A.D. 1150-1350) in the Green Lake and Marquette counties, the Orr and Blue Earth Phases (A.D. 1350-1650) in the Mississippi Valley, the Green Bay Phase (A.D. 1150-1650) on the Door Peninsula and the Lake Winnebago Phase (A.D. 1350-1650) is located in Winnebago County (Overstreet 1995: 33-34). The Crescent Bay Hunt Club is a Lake Koshkonong Phase Oneota site, due to its material culture and geographical location on the western shore of Lake Koshkonong (Gibbon n. d.; Jeske 2001a: 3).

Wisconsin Oneota Phases
Figure 2. Wisconsin Oneota Phases. Map adapted from Gibbon 1986.

A horizon is a class of material culture that appears within a defined time period, but which includes and cross-cuts local geographic phases. There are four horizons that span the 600 year time frame of Oneota existence in Wisconsin; the Emergent Horizon, Developmental Horizon, Classic Horizon, and Historic Horizon (Hall 1962; Overstreet 1995; 1997).

Oneota Origins

There has been much debate on the origins of Oneota in southeastern Wisconsin. It has been suggested Oneota groups derived from both Late Woodland and Middle Mississippian populations. It has been suggested that the Oneota were the descendants, migrants or a cultural derivation of the Middle Mississippians in the Central Mississippi Valley (Gibbon 1972; Hall 1962: 5; Overstreet 1976: 30). Conversely, it has been argued that Oneota develops in situ in the north during the same time Cahokia and the Middle Mississippian populations were developing in the south (Brown 1982: 107; Benn 1995: 91). Oneota sites are found in the region by the 11th-12th century (Brown 1982: 107; Stevenson et al. 1997: 106), before the rise of Cahokia during the 12th-13th century (Green 1997: 204). It is believed it would have been difficult for Cahokia at circa A.D. 1000, to have had a large enough population to inhabit or even to exert much influence over the vast area the Oneota were occupying by this early date (Brown 1982: 107; Benn 1995: 91). Despite the decades that archaeologists have debated the issue, there is still no universally agreed upon solution to the problem. Regardless of whether the cause of the change was local or external, we do know that circa A.D. 1000-1100, people in Wisconsin begin to adopt a new set of material culture attributes, which we can identify as Oneota.

Oneota Horizons

Emergent Oneota (A.D. 1050-1250) sites around Lake Koshkonong include Carcajou Point and Crabapple Point (Hall 1962; Richards, et al. 1998; Spector 1975). The Emergent Horizon is defined by ceramics that are shell tempered, overwhelmingly lack shoulder decoration or handles, but exhibit modification of the lip. The shoulder decorations that do occur are curvilinear lines, sometimes sharing characteristics with Ramey Incised motifs found at Middle Mississippian sites and chevrons with punctate fill (Overstreet 1995: 36; Hall 1962: 55) (Figure 3). Crudely made pinch pots are common. The rims are highly variable, ranging from straight to sharply everted. The lithic assemblage is dominated by small triangular bifaces. Stemmed and unstemmed bifaces are also present, although much less common than the triangular bifaces. End scrapers are present, but not in large quantities (Figure 4). Bone and copper awls have been recovered as well as copper ornaments such as beads and pendants (Overstreet 1995: 36-37; Hall 1962: 44-46). House structures have been located at a small number of sites in the Lake Koshkonong area. House structures at Carcajou Point have shown that the Oneota utilized three types of houses (Figure 5), a wigwam style, gabled bark summerhouse and semi-subterranean pit houses (Hall 1962: 17). Fortifications have been found at several sites, but it is generally accepted that palisades were not built often. Subsistence remains include maize, but wild plants and animals composed much of the diet (Overstreet 1995: 37; Richards, et al. 1998). Settling near oak openings in the rich environment of the Prairie Peninsula allowed for cultivation of plants, while continuing a pattern of hunting and gathering to complement and supplement their crops in the surrounding environments (Goldstein and Kind 1983). Oneota groups were able to exploit a variety of resources, both aquatic and terrestrial (Overstreet 1995: 36-39; Overstreet 1997: 259- 260; Benchley et al.1997: 160; Hunter 2002).

Oneota pottery motifs and vessel shapes
Figure 3. Oneota pottery motifs and vessel shapes. Adapted from Overstreet 1995. Top and second row left (Emergent Horizon). Second row right and third row (Developmental Horizon). Bottom (Classic Horizon).

Developmental Horizon (A.D. 1250-1350) sites around Lake Koshkonong include Crescent Bay Hunt Club as well as several adjacent and nearby sites that have not been recorded in detail yet (Jeske 2000, 2001; Stout and Skavlem 1908). These sites are characterized by shell tempered ceramics that are generally plain, but have more designs that are variations of the curvilinear and punctate designs (Figure 3). Trailed lines are bordered by punctates or can be in the form of interlocking scrolls (Overstreet 1995: 44; Overstreet 1997: 266; Benchley et al.1997: 160). Nested chevrons continue to be part of the ceramic assemblage. Rims have changed slightly and decoration on the lip is less prevalent than in the Emergent Horizon (Overstreet 1955: 44; Benchley et al. 1997: 160). According to Overstreet (1997: 274), the designs are not executed as precisely as the designs found at Emergent Horizon sites. The pinch pot motifs remain unchanged during the Developmental Horizon. The lithic assemblage continues to be dominated by small triangular bifaces. The proportion of triangular bifaces to end scrapers is still high (Figure 4). Bipolar technology becomes the predominant form of modifying the raw lithic materials present around the site. The domestic architecture has changed from the semi-subterranean pit houses to the mat and pole wigwam style houses (Figure 5) (Gibbon n. d.). A fortification has been noted at the Walker-Hooper site in Green Lake County, Wisconsin (Overstreet 1995: 49). Settlements became more widely scattered instead of concentrations of settlements in a few core areas (Overstreet 1995: 44, 50; Benchley et al. 1996: 274; Overstreet 1997: 274). Subsistence practices are similar to those characteristic of the Emergent Horizon. Maize was grown, but to what extent it contributed to the diet is still debated. Hunting and gathering, especially in aquatic areas, composed a significant portion of the diet. In some areas freshwater shellfish became an important source of food during this time period (Overstreet 1997: 266, 274). The Crescent Bay Hunt Club is a Developmental Horizon site.

Lithics commonly found at Upper Mississippian sites
Figure 4. Lithics commonly found at Upper Mississippian sites. Illustration adapted from Nolan and Conrad 1998 (arrowheads (a-f),Drills (g-l), bifacial knife (m), side scrapers (n-o), rough biface (p)).

Classic Horizon (A.D. 1350-1650) sites, including Carcajou Point (Hall 1962: Richards et al. 1998) are characterized by radical changes in Oneota material culture in Wisconsin (Overstreet 1995: 50). Populations appear to become more densely concentrated along the Middle Fox River Passageway and the La Crosse Terrace. New ceramic styles appear and undecorated pots are rare (Figure 3). The rims change to a sharply everted form instead of the previous outflaring form. Strap handles occur more frequently than in the previous horizons. Narrow trailed line motifs become a minority and are dominated by incised vertical and horizontal lines on the shoulder, often bordered by punctates. There is a change within the lithic assemblage as well, as end scrapers become more frequent than triangular bifaces (Figure 4). Bone tools include the addition of bison scapula hoes. Copper was manufactured into beads, awls, and pendants in the shape of animals. Settlements become more concentrated in the Middle Fox River Passageway and become larger in size. Sites generally cluster around multiple environmental zones that could easily be exploited. The appearance of long house structures is seen in this horizon (Figure 5). Aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals dominate the food base and continued to be supplemented with agricultural products of maize, and beans. There is intensification of agricultural production, but not to the extent that Oneota groups relied solely on cultivated foods for sustenance (Overstreet 1995: 50-56; Overstreet 1997: 274-287; Benchley et al. 1997: 161).

House structures present at Oneota sites
Figure 5. House structures present at Oneota sites. Drawings adapted from Hall 1962 (top left) and Hollinger 1995 (top right, bottom left and bottom right). Wall trench style (top left), long house (top right and bottom left), and wigwam (bottom right) are house types found in Wisconsin.

Historic Horizon (post-A.D.1650) are not found around Lake Koshkonong. The Historic Horizon is a tentatively proposed taxonomic unit Oneota in eastern Wisconsin has been provisionally linked to the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) tribe (Overstreet 1995: 56). The Oneota in western Wisconsin have been linked to the proto-Ioway. European material and Oneota cultural material have been found in association with each other at a small number of sites, which has been used to identify the Historic Horizon (Overstreet 1995:57; Overstreet 1997: 299-290; Benchley et al. 1997: 161). One of the key problems with discussing and identifying Oneota cultural material and behavior during this time is because of the lack of excavated sites. Only a few sites in eastern Wisconsin have been located and excavated, none of which have provided unequivocal evidence from which to make inferences (Overstreet 1995:57; Overstreet 1997: 299-290; Benchley et al. 1997: 161). Furthermore, Mason (1997: 70) suggests that underlying the lack of material linking historic and prehistoric tribes is the idea of tribe. He proposes that continuity in cultural identity is hard to distinguish because archaeologists are not able to grasp what it meant to be a Menomini or Oneota to the people themselves. These are names given by archaeologists and do not justly represent the true prehistoric cultural identity of a given culture. There have been only two sites (Bell site and Rock Island site) that have substantial archaeological and historical documentation that allows archaeologists to link the prehistoric and historic tribes and the Bell site is not an Oneota site (Mason 1997: 70-71).

Crescent Bay Hunt Club: A Developmental Horizon Oneota Site

The Crescent Bay Hunt Club site sits on top of a ridge that runs parallel to the western shore of Lake Koshkonong (Figures 6 and 7). The ridge is till-covered limestone bedrock that rises approximately 8 meters above the lower wetlands that lead to the Lake 180 meters to the east. Hanson (1996) notes that the area was ideally suited to prehistoric habitation due to the fact that the property is the "first extensive high ground to the west of the confluence of [Koshkonong] creek with Lake Koshkonong" and would be a good location for those seeking to "utilize wetland resources in conjunction with resources of Lake Koshkonong." Recent research by Hunter (2003) has demonstrated that the a 1 mile catchment around the site provided a wetland-rich resource zone.

Location of Crescent Bay Hunt Club site
Figure 6. Location of Crescent Bay Hunt Club site.

Aerial view of Crescent Bay Hunt Club site
Figure 7. Aerial view of Crescent Bay Hunt Club site.

Previous Research

Stout and Skavlem (1908), in their research of prehistoric habitation around Lake Koshkonong, documented a site which may be what is now known as the Crescent Bay Hunt Club site. Skavlem described a village site, filled with pottery and fire cracked rock, and surrounded by remnants of Native American corn fields. The description is verbal and not supported with a map, however, and there are a number of known Oneota sites in the vicinity. Recent research by the Wisconsin Historical Society suggests that Stout and Skavlem refer to an area immediately adjacent to what is currently defined as the Crescent Bay Hunt Club Site. The exact location and association of Skavlem's site remains elusive, but it is possibly the first known report of the site.

In 1968, the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted excavations at the club under the direction of David Baerreis, as part of a summer field session and fall semester introductory level archaeology course (Gibbon, n. d.). The weekend excavations recovered an Oneota house and several related features designated as JE-244 (Figure 8). The excavation recovered pottery, flakes, groundstone tools, bone, and shell as well as other materials (Gibbon n. d.).

Crescent Bay house
Figure 8. Crescent Bay house (Gibbon n. d.)

In 1995, UW-Milwaukee personnel conducted survey on the property of the Hunt Club (Hanson 1996). A survey of a small strip of cultivated field yielded Oneota ceramics and lithic material in an area believed to coincide with the location of the 1968 UW Madison excavations.

In 1998-2002 personnel from UWM, under the direction of Robert J. Jeske, returned to the field surveyed in 1995. The first goal of the project was to delineate the boundaries of the site. The 1968 excavations and 1995 survey had conducted research only in what had once been a cultivated field. A large strip of pine trees and scrub brush immediately north of Je904 had not been investigated by either research party. Our expectation was that cultural material from Je904 would continue north into these woods. The survey used shovel tests along a 10 meter grid, with probes being placed 10 meter apart along transects spaced 10 meter apart . The shovel probes at Crescent Bay Hunt Club provide good evidence for the site boundaries and for the distribution of materials within the site. Viewed as a whole, the site's boundaries appear to be clear. The steep bank on the east to northeast side of the site is one obvious boundary. The combined 1995 through 2000 shovel probe data indicate the extent of the western, northern and southern limits of the site (Figure 9). Although no statistical tests have been conducted, the spatial distribution suggests that the site contains internal structure, i.e., positive shovel probes seem to be clustered. The first cluster is the house and features recovered in the 1968/1998 excavations. The second cluster consists of positive shovel probes to the north and east of the house. Transect 8, Probe 1, which yielded the greatest variety of materials (ceramics, flakes, bone, charcoal, fish scale, mussel shell, historic glass and iron) lies near the center of this large cluster. A third cluster is north and west of the house. Finally, a fourth cluster appears to the south and east of the house.

Distribution of shovel probes defining site limits and internal structure
Figure 9. Distribution of shovel probes defining site limits and internal structure.

Results of 1998-2002 Excavations

In 1998 a series of units were excavated in the area identified by the 1995 survey as the likely location the 1968 UW Madison excavations. The work did relocate the 1968 excavation units including portions of the house illustrated by Gibbon. In 2000-2002, a series of units was excavated in the northern portion of the site, yielding over 100 features and several burials (Figure 10, 11, 12). In addition, thousands of ceramic sherds and chert flakes, as well as stone and copper tools have been recovered from the site. Moreover, the large amount of flotation analysis conducted from the site have yielded very detailed floral and faunal remains, as well as high-precision Accelerator Mass Spectrometry dates for the site.

Distribution of excavated units in relation to survey data
Figure 10. Distribution of excavated units in relation to survey data.

1998 excavation units in relation to 1968 excavation units
Figure 11. 1998 excavation units in relation to 1968 excavation units.

North block excavation units 2000-2002 excavations
Figure 12. North block excavation units 2000-2002 excavations.

Radiocarbon dates. Eight radiocarbon dates are available from the site (Bender et al. 1970; Jeske 2001b). Four were standard dates obtained from the 1968 excavations, and were taken from charcoal found in features. In 2000, two samples (F00-11, F00-26) underwent standard radiometric analysis using extended counting, while two (F00-06, F00-21) underwent standard Accelerator Mass Spectrometry analysis (AMS). All four samples were maize and nutshell fragments. The dates returned by the laboratory for all dates are very consistent, and suggest an occupation of the site in the late thirteenth and early portion of the fourteenth century (Table 1; Figure 13). The timing fits in well with Overstreet's (1978; 1995) placement of the site into the Developmental Horizon (Hall 1962).

Click here for Table 1 Radiocarbon dates from Crescent Bay Hunt Club 2000 excavations.

Radiocarbon dates from Crescent Bay Hunt Club
Figure 13. Radiocarbon dates from Crescent Bay Hunt Club.


The function of the features at the site have been broken down into a number of general types. Below are basic description of the kinds of features that have been uncovered at the site.

House. Discovered during the 1968 excavation, the house is wigwam style made of small posts, probably covered in matting. The number of posts inside the wall lines indicate that there may have been internal benches, possibly for sleeping (Figure 8).

Posts. Including the house structure from 1968/1998, well over 200 postholes have been identified at the site. Several of these appear to be deep, conical post pits (Figure 14). Others are straight or slanted narrow, tapering postmolds. These often have limestone chunks, apparently for chinking the post into place.

Post hole
Figure 14. Post hole.

Threshing pits. A number of features are rectangular or subrectangular in plan view, straight walled and sided, and are range from 30-40 cm below the A/Ap horizon (Figure 15). The original depth of these may have been as much as 75-100 cm below ground surface. Granite and limestone rocks are often found at the bottom of these pits. It is suspected that these may be related to features identified as wild rice threshing pits (Stout and Skavlem 1900).

Threshing pit
Figure 15. Threshing pit.

Basins. Circular basins are also noted at the site, some more than a meter deep, some of them smaller (Figure 16). Similar to the threshing pits, several basins were found with large granitic and limestone rocks at the bottom.

Figure 16. Basin.

Wall trenches. Several features are interpreted now as wall trenches, one of which is most likely a palisade wall, which possibly enclosed the site, although there clearly is cultural material to the west (Figures 17, 18, 19, 20).

Wall trench plan
Figure 17. Wall trench plan.

Wall trench plan close up
Figure 18. Wall trench plan close up.

Burials. Three burials were discovered during investigations at the site. All are still in the ground. All three are near the palisade trench (No figures shown). One was discovered during shovel probe and no information, other than that it was human, was recorded. One burial is of an adult male laid on his side in a flexed position, with a stone scraper as a possible grave offering. However, since he was buried at the bottom of, or disturbed by the excavation of, a food storage pit that subsequently filled up with midden debris, it is probable that he was buried without any artifacts at all. The third is a multiple burial consisting of an adult male laid on his back, with his feet tucked back up under his thighs. His arms were crossed over his chest, and in the crook of his right arm he held a 6 to 9 year old child, while in the crook of his left arm he held a 6 to 9 month old infant. Both the adult and the older child suffered from malnutrition and very poor dental health. No grave goods were buried with these individuals.

Wall trench profile
Figure 19. Wall trench profile.

Wall trench profile with posts
Figure 20. Wall trench profile with posts.


Ceramic types include Carcajou Bold, Carcajou Curvilinear, Carcajou Plain, Grand River Plain, and Grand River Trailed styles (Figure 21). It is highly likely that most of the body sherds fall into either Grand River or Carcajou styles. Several sherds also appear to be Busseyville groove paddle style. The Carcajou and Grand River styles both meet expectations for a site of the Developmental Horizon (Hall 1962; Overstreet 1995). Finally, a small number of Late Woodland Madison Cord-Impressed sherds were recovered from a single shovel probe in 2002.

Ceramic rims from Crescent Bay Hunt Club
Figure 21. Ceramic rims from Crescent Bay Hunt Club.


Lithic material is sparse, but the lithic assemblage is typical for a Developmental Horizon site. There is a high proportion of flakes to tools. Shaped tools are dominated by Madison triangular hafted bifaces (Figure 22). There are also some unifacial end scrapers and smaller numbers of cores and utilized pieces. The Madison triangular points far outnumber end scrapers found at this site. Louise Lambert (2000) showed that the Crescent Bay Hunt Club data rank 59 on Hall's (1962) scraper/point index (the number of scrapers divided by the number of points multiplied by 100), which is expected for Developmental Horizon sites (Boszhardt and McCarthy 1999; Overstreet 1997).

Triangular points from Crescent Bay Hunt Club
Figure 22. Triangular points from Crescent Bay Hunt Club.


Four pieces of copper have been found in features at the site, including two awls, an adze, and a small fragment of an undetermined tool form. Gibbon (n. d.) also indicates that a copper snake was recovered from the site by nonprofessionals earlier in the century, but no record of that artifact is left.

Subsistence Data

Floral Data. Flotation analysis of the 2002 excavations is not complete, but we can say from the work to date is that individuals at Crescent Bay subsisted largely on a diet of cultivated maize, wild rice, and intensively harvested goosefoot. These were supplemented with a small amount of wild plant foods (Egan-Bruhy 2000; Hunter 2002). Based on the identification of cob and cupule fragments, it is highly likely that corn was grown nearby and processed at the site. In addition, the occupants of the site grew and used tobacco.

Faunal Data. Crescent Bay inhabitants focused their animal diet on wetland species (Hunter 2003). A variety of fish and turtles, as well as smaller amounts of small mammals and deer, were taken. The role of deer seems to be unusually small at this site, compared to contemporary Oneota and related sites.

Crescent Bay Hunt Club and Oneota

The data from Crescent Bay indicate that the site is an excellent example of a Developmental Horizon Oneota site from southeast Wisconsin. All of the data sets: lithic, ceramic, floral, faunal, mortuary, chronological, and spatial, have shed new light on the time period of A.D. 1250-1350. Future work will continue to add to our understanding of this important cultural phenomenon in Wisconsin's history.



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Archaeology Laboratory Home Page

The Crescent Bay Hunt Club Site: Oneota in Southeast Wisconsin
Introduction to the Oneota
Oneota Taxonomy
Oneota Origins
Oneota Horizons
Crescent Bay Hunt Club
Previous Research
Results of Excavations
Subsistence Data
CBHC & Oneota
References Cited


2001 UW-Milwaukee Archaeological Laboratory
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Last Updated: August 26, 2003
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