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Lost Pyramids of Rock Lake: Wisconsin's Sunken Civilization
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Divers find Rock Lake's 'Lost Pyramids'LAKE MILLS - Scoffers may sigh when they hear of another quest for the pyramids of Rock Lake, but divers say confirmation of the elusive underground formations is surfacing.
Tales of sightings have popped up every few years since two duck hunters, Claude and Lee Wilson, claimed in the early 1900s that their oar struck the apex of a pyramid about six feet below the lake's surface.
But now a group of divers has removed the story from folklore by shoring it up with facts.
"This time they went in high tech," said observer Pat Arntsen from Middleton, who is a member of the Ancient Earthworks Society. The results have been promising enough to draw the group back for an extended series of dives this weekend.
Scuba diver Frank Joseph, of Olympia Fields, Ill., ended a recent series of descents both weary and exhilarated.
"We definitely found two structures about in the middle of the lake in 55 feet of water. I would have been satisfied with only one, but finding two is terrific."
A diving companion, 17-year-old John Shulak of Lake Mills, has been exploring Rock Lake for six years, but this was his first search for the "lost pyramids".
"I'd say the first one is about eight feet high, 12 to 15 feet wide and more than 100 feet long. The second is 10 to 20 feet south of the first and about the same width, with a steeper slant to the sides, and is shorter in length," Shulak said. "They look to be the same height and exactly north and south on a compass alignment."
"One is exactly like 'the loaf-of-bread pyramid' Kennedy described," said Shulak, referring to a 1970 account in Skin Diver magazine of a 1967 scuba dive by John Kennedy, a botanist from Lombard, Ill. "The area of rocks looks like a tent-shaped pyramid, collapsed."
Careful planning and ideal conditions are credited with the success of the expedition and the documentation. "Visibility was the best ever, maybe because there was little runoff into the lake during last year's dry summer. I could see at least 10 to 15 feet," Shulak said.
Craig Scott from Sea Search, Muskegon, Mich., operated his side-scan sonar apparatus - a tow-line with torpedo-like "fish" at the end - and took sound photographs. He pointed to dark shadows on his wide sonograph scroll of paper. "It is so linear; that tells me it is man-made. It doesn't fit into the surroundings."
Deciding where and how to search had been planned at a meeting of about 20 people who have been interested in the mysterious pyramids for years. At the Lake Mills home of history enthusiast Wayne May, they exchanged descriptions that previous divers have reported, stories about the ancient truncated Aztalan pyramids nearby, theories about ancient topography and Rock Lake depth, and beliefs that there were even earlier Indians who had a hand in Aztalan. (Researchers believe that the above-ground pyramids were constructed more than 1,400 years ago. But no one has attached a date to the origin of the underwater structures.)
Fishing maps, lake-depth charts and communication equipment they would need were discussed, and arrangements were made for video filming. The side-scan sonar would be sent to the most likely places.
A pontoon boat and several smaller boats were launched at the north end of the lake and sent "between the red barn and the water tower" in the distance. Botanist Ruth Schmitz and electrical engineering expert Norbert Schmitz handled walkie-talkies and other communications.
Divers waited until the sonar located something. "There were five divers in our group. More would have been too many fish in the water," Joseph said.
Shulak is satisfied even if he didn't see exactly what he expected. "It's like a pile of rubble, large stones on the bottom and smaller ones on top. I was looking for something a little more complete, but after all, they are pretty old."
He describes the experience as "pretty weird. It was like a mud desert around the structure - no weeds. It's sitting in silt, with this pile of stones rising up ... kind of round on top."
"Some kind of plaster had been used on the sides. Slabs or fragments of cement or plaster, or at least something man-made were on top of the large one. Doug Gossage took photos so that the things can be studied," Shulak said.
Bob Pope, who had divers off his pontoon boat, said everything went "pretty well". He said the day was definitely worthwhile - "kind of like a pioneer thing and I wanted to be involved in it."
How the structures are aligned and what's on top of them are important to the explorers because scuba-diving professor Jim Scherz of Madison has an elaborate theory of a calendar system and solar alignments tied in with the nearby Aztalan truncated pyramids.
As Scherz's theory goes, the pyramids are flat-topped observation points that form a system for watching the movements of the sun and planets. The longer underwater structure could be a road leading toward the mounds on the shore. And the numerous springs in the lake could have led to the establishment of a worship site there.
Jospeh theorizes that the lake, in much earlier, drier times, could have been a "city of the dead".
Although no high-tech devices will ever take away all the mystery of the lake, they have given it a pretty thorough going-over.
Joseph said they checked the whole lake with the sonar so they won't have to use the $700-per-day device again. "We'll definitely be back to check out what the pictures show," he said
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