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قراءة كتاب The Problem of the Ohio Mounds

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‏اللغة: English
The Problem of the Ohio Mounds

The Problem of the Ohio Mounds

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5


There is another Indian tradition, apparently founded on fact, that the Essex mounds in Clinton County, Mich., are the burying places of those killed in a battle between the Chippewas and Pottawatomies, which occurred not many generations ago. [Footnote: Smithsonian Report, part 1, 1884, p. 848.]



The historical evidence is, as we have seen, conclusive that some of the tribes of Indians were mound builders.

The explorations by the Bureau of Ethnology in the South and West have also brought to light so many corroborative facts that the question may be considered settled. These will shortly be given to the public; only a few can be noticed here, and that in a very brief and general way.

As the country was inhabited only by Indians at the time of its discovery, and as we have no evidence, unless derived from the mounds, of its having ever been occupied by any other people, every fact indicating a similarity between the arts, customs, and social life of the mound-builders and those of the red Indians, is an evidence of the identity of the two peoples. The greater the number of these resemblances, the greater the probability of the correctness of the theory, so long as we find nothing irreconcilable with it.

Architecture.—One of the first circumstances which strike the mind of the archaeologist who carefully studies these works as being very significant, is the entire absence of any evidence in them of architectural knowledge and skill approaching that exhibited by the ruins of Mexico and Central America, or even equaling that exhibited by the Pueblo Indians.

It is true that truncated pyramidal mounds of large size and somewhat regular proportions are found in certain sections, and that some of these have ramps or roadways leading up to them. Yet when compared with the pyramids or teocalli of Mexico and Yucatan the differences in the manifestations of architectural skill are so great, and the resemblances are so faint and few, as to furnish no grounds whatever for attributing the two classes of works to the same people. The facts that the works of the one people consist chiefly of wrought and sculptured stone, and that such materials are wholly unknown to the other, forbid the idea of any relationship between the two. The difference between the two classes of monuments indicates a wide divergence—a complete step —in the culture status.

Mexico, Central America, and Peru are dotted with the ruins of stone edifices, but in all the mound-building area of the United States not the slightest vestige of one attributable to the people who erected the earthen structures is to be found. The utmost they attained in this direction was the construction of stone cairus, rude stone—walls, and vaults of cobble-stones and undressed blocks. This fact is too significant to be overlooked in this comparison, and should have its weight in forming a conclusion, especially when it is backed by numerous other important differences.

Though hundreds of groups of mounds marking the sites of ancient villages are to be seen scattered over the Mississippi Valley and Gulf States yet nowhere can there be found an ancient house. The inference is therefore irresistible that the houses of the mound- builders were constructed of perishable materials; consequently that the builders were not sufficiently advanced in art to use stone or brick in building, or else that they lived a roving, restless life that would not justify the time and trouble necessary to erect such permanent structures. As the last inference is irreconcilable with the magnitude and extent of many groups of these remains we are forced to the conclusion that the first is true.

One chief objection to the Indian origin of these works is, as already stated, that their builders must have been sedentary, depending largely upon agriculture for subsistence. It is evident, therefore, that they had dwellings of some sort, and as remains of neither stone nor brick structures are found which could have been used for this purpose, we must assume that their dwellings were constructed of perishable material, such as was supplied in abundance by the forest region in which they dwelt. It is therefore apparent that in this respect at least the dwellings of mound-builders were similar to those of Indians. But this is not all that can be said in reference to the houses of the former, for there still remain indications of their shape and character, although no complete examples are left for inspection. In various places, especially in Tennessee, Illinois, and southeast Missouri, the sites of thousands of them are yet distinctly marked by little circular depressions with rings of earth around them. These remains give the form and size of one class of dwellings that was common in the regions named. Excavations in the center usually bring to light the ashes and hearth that mark the place where the fire was built, and occasionally unearth fragments of the vessels used in cooking, the bones of animals on whose flesh the inmates fed, and other articles pertaining to domestic use.

During the explorations of the Bureau in southeastern Missouri and Arkansas, finding the remains of houses in low, flat mounds was a common occurrence. Although the wood in most cases had disappeared, what had not been converted to coals and ashes having rotted away, yet the size and form, and, in part, the mode of construction, were clearly indicated. The hard-tramped, circular, earthen floor gave the size and form; the numerous fragments of burnt clay forming a layer over the floor—often taken by explorers for brick-revealed the method of plastering their dwellings; the charred remains of grass and twigs showed that it had been strengthened by this admixture; the impressions left on the inner face of these lumps of burnt plastering revealed the character of the lathing, which was in some cases branches and twigs, but in others split cane. The roof was thatched with grass or matting, the charred remains of which were found in more than one instance. In probably nine cases out of ten it was apparent these dwellings had been burned. This was found to be due to the custom of burying the dead in the floor and burning the dwelling over them, covering the remains with dirt often before the fire had ceased burning.

As a general rule the strata are found in this order: (1) a top layer of soil from 1 foot to 2 feet thick; (2) a layer of burnt clay from 3 to 12 inches thick (though usually varying from 4 to 8 inches) and broken into lumps, never in a uniform, unbroken layer; immediately below this (3) a thin layer of hardened muck or dark clay, though this does not always seem to be distinct. At this depth in the mounds of the eastern part of Arkansas are usually found one or more skeletons.

Take, for example, the following statement by Dr. Edward Palmer in regard to these beds:

As a general and almost universal rule, after removing a foot or two of top soil, a layer of burnt clay in a broken or fragmentary condition would be found, sometimes with impressions of grass or twigs, and easily crumbled, but often hard, and stamped, apparently, with an implement made of split reeds of comparatively large size. This layer was often a foot thick, and frequently burned to a brick-red or even to clinkers. Below this would be found more or less ashes, and often 6 inches of charred grass immediately over the skeletons. These skeletons were found lying in all directions, some with the face up, others with it down, and others on the side. With each of these were one or more vessels of clay.

Remains of rectangular houses were also discovered, though much less frequent than other forms. These consisted