Enduring Legacies of Agriculture: Long-term Vegetation Impacts of Ancestral Menominee Agriculture, Wisconsin, USA

  • Madeleine McLeester Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College, Hanover, USA,
  • Alison E. Anastasio University of Chicago, Chicago, USA
  • Jeff Grignon Tribal Historic Preservation Department, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Keshena, USA
Keywords: Vegetation surveys, Species richness, Ancestral Menominee agriculture, Archaeology, Great Lakes ecology


Agriculture significantly reshapes soils and ecology, often with lasting ecological impacts. For over a millennium, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin have practiced maize agriculture in the upper Great Lakes. Though the vast majority of ancestral Indigenous agricultural sites have been destroyed in the American Midwest, the Menominee have documented numerous archaeological, raised garden bed sites at their Reservation, enabling an investigation into the lasting vegetation impacts of ancestral Menominee agricultural practices. Here, we report findings from our pilot vegetation surveys of three ancestral raised garden bed sites. Results show that all sites surveyed are high quality ecosystems. We observed differences in species richness between agricultural and non-agricultural places, although findings varied based on location. Overall, our surveys illustrate the complexity of these anthropogenic, biologically diverse landscapes shaped by past and contemporary Menominee land use and illustrate how today’s ecology is in part an enduring legacy of past practices.


Abrams, M., and G. Nowacki. 2008. Native Americans as Active and Passive Promoters of Mast and Fruit Trees in the Eastern USA. Holocene 18(7):1123–1137. DOI:10.1177/0959683608095581

Armstrong, C., J. Miller, A. C. McAlvay, P. M. Ritchie, and D. Lepofsky. 2021. Historical Indigenous Land-Use Explains Plant Functional Trait Diversity. Ecology and Society 26(2):6. DOI:10.5751/ES-12322-260206

Arnáez, J., Lana-Renault, N., Lasanta, T., Ruiz-Flaño, P., and J. Castroviejo. 2015. Effects of Farming Terraces on Hydrological and Geomorphological Processes. A review. Catena 128:122–134. DOI:10.1016/j.catena.2015.01.021

Bauer J.T., Koziol L., and J. Bever. 2018. Ecology of Floristic Quality Assessment: Testing for Correlations between Coefficients of Conservatism, Species Traits and Mycorrhizal Responsiveness. Annals of Botany Plants 10(1):plx073. DOI:10.1093/aobpla/plx073.

Beck, D. 2002. Siege and Survival: History of the Menominee Indians, 1634–1856. U of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Briggs, J. M., Spielmann, K. A., Schaafsma, H., Kintigh, K. W., Kruse, M., Morehouse, K., and K. Schollmeyer. 2006. Why Ecology Needs Archaeologists and Archaeology Needs Ecologists. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4(4):180–188.

Boyd, M., and C. Surette. 2010. Northernmost Precontact Maize in North America. American Antiquity 75(1):117–133.

Campbell, D., Ford, A., Lowell, K., Walker, J., Lake, J., Campo-Raeder, C., Townesmith, A., and M. Balick. 2006. The Feral Forests of the Eastern Petén. In Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands, edited by W. Balée and C. Erickson, pp. 21–56. Columbia University Press, New York.

Chadde, S. 2019. Wisconsin Flora: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Plants of Wisconsin, 2nd Edition. Orchard Innovations.

Ceschin, S., Bartoli, F., Salerno, G., Zuccarello, V., and G. Caneva. 2016. Natural Habitats of Typical Plants Growing on Ruins of Roman Archaeological Sites (Rome, Italy). Plant Biosystems 150(5):866–875. DOI: 10.1080/11263504.2014.990536

Densmore, F. (1932). Menominee Music. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 102. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Doolittle, W. 2000. Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Dunn, M. 1983. Coquille Flora (Louisiana): An Ethnobotanical Reconstruction. Economic Botany 37(3):349–359.

Erickson, C. 2006. Intensification, Political Economy, and The Tarming Community: In Defense Of A Bottom-Up Perspective Of The Past. In: Agricultural strategies, edited by: J. Marcus and C. Stanish, pp. 233–265. Cotsen Institute: Los Angeles.Ellis, E., Gauthier N, Goldewijk K, Bliege Bird R, Boivin N, Díaz S, Fuller DQ, Gill JL, Kaplan JO, Kingston N, Locke H, McMichael CNH, Ranco D, Rick TC, Shaw MR, Stephens L, Svenning J-C, and J. Watson. 2021. People Have Shaped Most of Terrestrial Nature for at Least 12,000 Years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(17):e2023483118. DOI:10.1073/pnas.2023483118

Feinman, G., and L. Nicholas. 2020. Relict Plant Communities at Prehispanic Sites in Oaxaca, México: Historical Implications. Human Ecology 48(5):539–555. DOI:10.1007/s10745-020-00177-x

Ford, A., and R. Nigh. 2015. The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands (Vol. 6). Left Coast Press, California.

Flannery, K. 1969. Origins and Ecological Effects of Early Domestication in Iran and the Near East. In: The domestication of plants and animals, edited by P. J. Ucko and G. W. Dimbleby, pp. 73–100. Ducksworth & Co., London.

Gallagher, J. 1992. Prehistoric Field Systems in the Upper Midwest. In Late prehistoric agriculture: observations from the Midwest (No. 8), edited by W.I. Woods, pp. 95–135. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Springfield, IL.

Gallagher, J., Boszhardt, R., Sasso, R., and Stevenson, K. 1985. Oneota Ridged Field Agriculture in Southwestern Wisconsin. American Antiquity 50(3):605–612.

Gallagher, J. and Sasso, R. 1987. Investigations into Oneota Ridged Field Agriculture on the Northern Margin of the Prairie Peninsula. Plains Anthropologist 32(116):141–151.

Gartner, W. 1997. Four Worlds Without an Eden: Pre-Columbian Peoples and the Wisconsin Landscape. In Wisconsin Land and Life, edited by in R. Ostergren and T. Vale, pp. 331–350. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI.

Gartner, W. 1999. Late Woodland Landscapes of Wisconsin: Ridged Fields, Effigy Mounds and Territoriality. Antiquity 73(281):671–683. DOI:10.1017/S0003598X00065273

Gartner, W. 2003. Raised Field Landscapes of Native North America. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global (UMI No. 305282713).

Ghanem, O., Jazem, A., and K. Djili. 2011. Causes of Agricultural Terraces Degradation in Al-Kimmah Watershed (Yemen). Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 5(12):136–144.

Glaser, B., Haumaier, L., Guggenberger, G., and W. Zech. 2001. The ‘Terra Preta’ Phenomenon: A Model for Sustainable Agriculture in the Humid Tropics. Naturwissenschaften 88:37-41. DOI: 10.1007/s001140000193

Harris, J. S. 2018. The Sylvan Blindspot: The Archaeological Value of Surface Vegetation and a Critique of Its Documentation. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Montana, Missoula.

Hecht, S. B., Morrison, K. D., and C. Padoch. (Eds.). 2014. The Social Lives of Forests: Past, Present, and Future of Woodland Resurgence. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Jacobsen, T. 1982. Salinity and Irrigation Agriculture in Antiquity. Diyala Basin Archaeological Report on the Essential Results, 1957–1958. Bibliotheca Mesopotamia 14. Udenda Publications, Malibu.

Kirch, P. 2005. Archaeology and Global Change: The Holocene Record. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30:409–440. DOI:10.1146/annurev.energy.29.102403.140700

Larson, E., Kipfmueller, K., and L. Johnson. 2021. People, Fire, and Pine: Linking Human Agency and Landscape in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Beyond. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 111(1):1–25. DOI:10.1080/24694452.2020.1768042

Lightfoot, K., Cuthrell, R., Striplen, C., and M. Hylkema. 2013. Rethinking the Study of Landscape Management Practices among Hunter-Fatherers in North America. American Antiquity 78(2):285–301. DOI:10.7183/0002-7316.78.2.285

Mausel, D., Waupochick Jr, A., and M. Pecore. 2017. Menominee Forestry: Past, Present, Future. Journal of Forestry 115(5): 366–369. DOI:10.5849/jof.13-094

McLeester, M. 2017. Moving Mosaics: Locating the Mobile Foundations of Chicago's Late Prehistoric Landscapes. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global (UMI No. 1928427508).

McLeester, M., and J. Casana. 2021. Finding Fields: Locating Archaeological Agricultural Landscapes Using Historical Aerial Photographs. American Antiquity 86(2):283–304. DOI:10.1017/aaq.2020.102

Morrison, K. D., E. Hammer, O. Boles, M. Madella, N. Whitehouse, M.-J. Gaillard, J. Bates, M. Vander Linden, S. Merlo, A. Yao, L. Popova, A. C. Hill, F. Antolin, A. Bauer, S. Biagetti, R. R. Bishop, P. Buckland, P. Cruz, D. Dreslerová, G. Dusseldorp, E. Ellis, D. Filipovic, T. Foster, M. J. Hannaford, S. P. Harrison, M. Hazarika, H. Herold, J. Hilpert, J. O. Kaplan, A. Kay, K. Klein Goldewijk, J. Kolář, E. Kyazike, J. Laabs, C. Lancelotti, P. Lane, D. Lawrence, K. Lewis, U. Lombardo, G. Lucarini, M. Arroyo-Kalin, R. Marchant, F. Mayle, M. McClatchie, M. McLeester, S. Mooney, M. Moskal-del Hoyo, V. Navarrete, E. Ndiema, E. Góes Neves, M. Nowak, W. A. Out, C. Petrie, L. N. Phelps, Z. Pinke, S. Rostain, T. Russell, A. Sluyter, A. K. Styring, E. Tamanaha, E. Thomas, S. Veerasamy, L. Welton, and M. Zanon. 2021. Mapping Past Human Land Use Using Archaeological Data: A New Classification for Global Land Use Synthesis and Data Harmonization. PLOS ONE 16:e0246662. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0246662.Mt. Pleasant, J. 2015. A New Paradigm for Pre-Columbian Agriculture in North America. Early American Studies 13(2):374–412.

Munson-Scullin, W. 2022. Agronomic Practices on the Wolf River (Wisconsin) Interpreted through Phytolith and Humic Acid Analysis. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Archaeological Conference. La Crosse, WI.

Munson-Scullin, W., and M. Scullin. 2005. Potential Productivity of Midwestern Native American Gardens. Plains Anthropologist 50(193):9–21. DOI:10.1179/pan.2005.004

Munson-Scullin, W., and M. Scullin. 2020. Phytolith and Humic Acid Study, and Excavation of Ridged Garden Beds at 20ME61, Menominee County, Michigan. Report submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Historical Center.

Munson-Scullin, W. and M. Scullin. 2023. Anatomy of a Ridged Garden Bed-Complex: Applying Soil Phytolith Analysis, Humic Acid Analysis and Experimental Archaeology to Understanding Garden Construction at Menominee River Garden Beds (20ME61). Wisconsin Archeologist.

Overstreet, D., and D. Grignon. 2021. The Menominee Tribe in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. The Wisconsin Archeologist 102(1):77–103.

Overstreet, D., Warrington, M., Overstreet, R., Gartner, W., Mier, L., and D. Grignon. 2020. Field Guide: A History of Ancient Gardens Research on the Menominee Research. College of the Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute, Keshena, WI.

Pavlik, B. M., Louderback, L. A., Vernon, K. B., Yaworsky, P. M., Wilson, C., Clifford, A., and B. Codding. 2021. Plant Species Richness at Archaeological Sites Suggests Ecological Legacy of Indigenous Subsistence on the Colorado Plateau. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118(21):e2025047118. DOI:10.1073/pnas.2025047118

Riley, T. J., and G. Freimuth. 1979. Field Systems and Frost Drainage in the Prehistoric Agriculture of the Upper Great Lakes. American Antiquity 44(2):271–285.

Sandor, J. A., Gersper, P. L., and J. Hawley. 1990. Prehistoric Agricultural Terraces and Soils in the Mimbres Area, New Mexico. World Archaeology 22(1):70–86. DOI:10.1080/00438243.1990.9980130

Sasso, R. 2003. Vestiges of Ancient Cultivation: The Antiquity of Garden Beds and Corn Hills in Wisconsin. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 28(2):195–231.

Sasso, R. F., and D. Joyce. 2006. Ethnohistory and Archaeology: The Removal Era Potawatomi Lifeway in Southeastern Wisconsin. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 31(1):165–201. DOI:10.1179/mca.2006.008

Slade, E., McKechnie, I., and A. Salomon. 2022. Archaeological and Contemporary Evidence Indicates Low Sea Otter Prevalence on the Pacific Northwest Coast during the Late Holocene. Ecosystems 25(3):548–566. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-021-00671-3

Smith, H. H. 1923. Ethnobotany of the Menomini Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of City of Milwaukee No. 1:1–174.

Swink, F., and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis.

Wykoff, M. 1991. Black Walnut on Iroquoian Landscapes. Northeastern Indian Quarterly 4:4–17.

Zeiner, H. M. 1946. Botanical Survey of the Angel Mounds Site, Evansville, Indiana. American Journal of Botany 33(1):83–90.

Zou, H. X., Anastasio, A. E., and C. Pfister. 2019. Early Succession on Slag Compared to Urban Soil: A Slower Recovery. PLOS ONE 14(12):e0224214. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0224214

Photograph of garden bed ridges at the Wayka Creek archaeological site. The photograph depicts a deciduous wooded area with fallen leaves covering the ground. Two garden beds, visible as pronounced ridges in the ground extending from the viewer's point of view, are also indicated by pink arrows. (Photo taken by McLeester).
How to Cite
McLeester, M., Anastasio, A. E., & Grignon, J. (2023). Enduring Legacies of Agriculture: Long-term Vegetation Impacts of Ancestral Menominee Agriculture, Wisconsin, USA. Ethnobiology Letters, 14(1), 80–91. https://doi.org/10.14237/ebl.14.1.2023.1864
Research Communications