Friday, July 29, 2011

A Brief Synopsis of the Mound Builders in the Ohio Valley



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by
John D. Baldwin,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


One of the most learned writers on American antiquities, a Frenchman, speaking of discoveries in Peru, exclaims, “America is to be again discovered! We must remove the veil in which Spanish politics has sought to bury its ancient civilization!” In this case, quite as much is due to the ignorance, indifference, unscrupulous greed, and religious fanaticism of the Spaniards, as to Spanish politics. The gold-hunting marauders who subjugated Mexico and Peru could be robbers and destroyers, but they were not qualified in any respect to become intelligent students of American antiquity. What a select company of investigators, such as could be organized in our time, might have done in Mexico and Central America, for instance, three hundred and fifty years ago, is easily understood. In what they did, and in what they failed to do, the Spaniards who went there acted in strict accordance with such character as they had; and yet we[14] are not wholly without obligation to some of the more intelligent Spaniards connected with the Conquest.
There are existing monuments of an American ancient history which invite study, and most of which might, doubtless, have been studied more successfully in the first part of the sixteenth century, before nearly all the old books of Central America had been destroyed by Spanish fanaticism, than at present. Remains of ancient civilizations, differing to some extent in degree and character, are found in three great sections of the American continent: the west side of South America, between Chili and the first or second degree of north latitude; Central America and Mexico; and the valleys of the Mississippi and the Ohio. These regions have all been explored to some extent—not completely, but sufficiently to show the significance and importance of their archæological remains, most of which were already mysterious antiquities when the continent was discovered by Columbus. I propose to give some account of these antiquities, not for the edification of those already learned in American archæology, but for general readers who have not made the subject a study. My sketches will begin with the Mississippi Valley and the regions connected with it.


An ancient and unknown people left remains of settled life, and of a certain degree of civilization, in the valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries. We have no authentic name for them either as a nation or a race;[15]

 therefore they are called “Mound-Builders,” this name having been suggested by an important class of their works.
Drawing of unexcavated moundFig. 2.—The Great Mound, near Miamisburg.
Prominent among the remains by which we know that such a people once inhabited that region are artificial mounds constructed with intelligence and great labor. Most of them are terraced and truncated pyramids. In shape they are usually square or rectangular, but sometimes hexagonal or octagonal, and the higher mounds appear to have been constructed with winding stairways on the outside leading to their summits. Many of these structures have a close resemblance to the teocallis of Mexico. They differ considerably in size. The great mound at Grave Creek, West Virginia, is 70 feet high and 1000 feet in circumference at the base. A mound in Miamisburg, Ohio, is 68 feet high and 852 feet in circumference. The great truncated pyramid at Cahokia, Illinois, is 700 feet long, 500 wide, and 90 in height. Generally, however, these mounds range from 6 to 30 feet high. In the lower valley of the Mississippi they are usually larger in horizontal extent, with less elevation.
Figure 2 represents the great mound near Miamisburg, Ohio, which may be compared with a similar structure at Mayapan, Yucatan (Fig. 34). Figure 3 shows a square mound near Marietta, Ohio.
Plan view of unexcavated square mound with four staircasesFig. 3.—Square Mound, near Marietta.
There have been a great many conjectures in regard to the purposes for which these mounds were built, some of them rather fanciful. I find it most reasonable to believe that the mounds in this part of the continent were[18] used precisely as similar structures were used in Mexico and Central America. The lower mounds, or most of them, must have been constructed as foundations of the more important edifices of the mound-building people. Many of the great buildings erected on such pyramidal foundations, at Palenque, Uxmal, and elsewhere in that region, have not disappeared, because they were built of hewn stone laid in mortar. For reasons not difficult to understand, the Mound-Builders, beginning their works on the lower Mississippi, constructed such edifices of wood or some other perishable material; therefore not a trace of them remains. The higher mounds, with broad, flat summits, reached by flights of steps on the outside, are like the Mexican teocallis, or temples. In Mexico and Central America these structures were very numerous. They are described as solid pyramidal masses of earth, cased with brick or stone, level at the top, and fur[19]nished with ascending ranges of steps on the outside. The resemblance is striking, and the most reasonable explanation seems to be that in both regions mounds of this class were intended for the same uses. Figure 4 shows the works at Cedar Bank, Ohio, inclosing a mound. The mound within the inclosure is 245 feet long by 150 broad. Figure 5 shows a group of mounds in Washington County, Mississippi, some of which are connected by means of causeways.
Plan of earthworksFig. 4—Works at Cedar Bank, Ohio.
Plan of unexcavated moundsFig. 5.—Works in Washington County, Mississippi.
Another class of these antiquities consists of inclosures formed by heavy embankments of earth and stone.[20] There is nothing to explain these constructions so clearly as to leave no room for conjecture and speculation. It has been suggested that some of them may have been intended for defense, others for religious purposes. A portion of them, it may be, encircled villages or towns. In some cases the ditches or fosses were on the inside, in others on the outside. But no one can fully explain why they were made. We know only that they were[21]

 prepared intelligently, with great labor, for human uses. “Lines of embankment varying from 5 to 30 feet in height, and inclosing from 1 to 50 acres, are very common, while inclosures containing from 100 to 200 acres are not infrequent, and occasional works are found inclosing as many as 400 acres.” Figures 6 and 7 give views of the Hopeton works, four miles north of Chillicothe, Ohio. Combinations of the square and circle are[24] common in these ancient works, and the figures are always perfect. This perfection of the figures proves, as Squier and Davis remark, that “the builders possessed a standard of measurement, and had a means of determining angles.”
Drawing showing circular earthworksFig. 6.—Works at Hopeton, Ohio.
Plan of earthworks with a circular enclosure adjacent to a rectangular enclosureFig. 7.—Principal Figures of the Hopeton Works.
About 100 inclosures and 500 mounds have been examined in Ross County, Ohio. The number of mounds in the whole state is estimated at over 10,000, and the number of inclosures at more than 1500. The great number of these ancient remains in the regions occupied by the Mound-Builders is really surprising. They are more numerous in the regions on the lower Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico than any where else; and here, in some cases, sun-dried brick was used in the embankments.
One peculiarity at the South is, that while the inclosures are generally smaller and comparatively less numerous, there is a greater proportion of low mounds, and these are often larger in extent. Harrison Mound, in South Carolina, is 480 feet in circumference and 15 feet high. Another is described as 500 feet in circumference at the base, 225 at the summit, and 34 feet high. In a small mound near this, which was opened, there was found “an urn holding 46 quarts,” and also a considerable deposit of beads and shell ornaments very much decomposed. Broad terraces of various heights, mounds with several stages, elevated passages, and long avenues, and aguadas or artificial ponds, are common at the South.Figure 8 shows the remains of a graded way of this ancient people near Piketon, Ohio.
Drawing of a road passing between two parallel moundsFig. 8.—Graded Way near Piketon, Ohio.
At Seltzertown, Mississippi, there is a mound 600 feet long, 400 wide, and 40 feet high. The area of its level summit measures 4 acres. There was a ditch around it, and near it are smaller mounds. Mr. J. R. Bartlett says, on the authority of Dr. M. W. Dickeson, “The north side of this mound is supported by a wall of sun-dried brick two feet thick, filled with grass, rushes, and leaves.” Dr. Dickeson mentions angular tumuli, with corners “still quite perfect,” and “formed of large bricks bearing the impression of human hands.” In Louisiana, near the Trinity, there is a great inclosure partially faced with sun-dried bricks of large size; and in this neighborhood ditches and artificial ponds have been examined. In the Southern States these works appear to assume a closer resemblance to the mound work of Central America.
The result of intelligent exploration and study of these antiquities is stated as follows: “Although possessing throughout certain general points of resemblance going to establish a kindred origin, these works nevertheless resolve themselves into three grand geographical divisions, which present in many respects striking contrasts, yet so gradually merge into each other that it is impossible to determine where one series terminates and another begins.” On the upper lakes, and to a certain extent in Michigan, Iowa, and Missouri, but particularly in Wisconsin, the outlines of the inclosures (elsewhere more regular in form) were designed in the forms of animals, birds, serpents, and even men, appearing on the surface of the country like huge relievos. The embankment of an irregular inclosure in Adams County, Ohio, is de[28]scribed as follows by Squier and Davis, Mr. Squier having made the drawing of it for the work published by the Smithsonian Institution:
“It is in the form of a serpent, upward of 1000 feet in length, extended in graceful curves, and terminating in a triple coil at the tail. The embankment constituting this figure is more than 5 feet high, with a base 30 feet wide at the centre of the body, diminishing somewhat toward the head and tail. The neck of the figure is stretched out and slightly curved. The mouth is wide open, and seems in the act of swallowing or ejecting an oval figure which rests partly within the distended jaws. This oval is formed by an embankment 4 feet high, and is perfectly regular in outline, its transverse and conjugate diameters being respectively 160 and 80 feet. The combined figure has been regarded as a symbolical illustration of the Oriental cosmological idea of the serpent and the egg; but, however this may be, little doubt can exist of the symbolical character of the monument.”
Figure 9 gives a view of this work.
No symbolic device is more common among the antiquities of Mexico and Central America than the form of the serpent, and it was sometimes reproduced in part in architectural constructions. One of the old books, giving account of a temple dedicated to Quetzalcohuatl, says, “It was circular in form, and the entrance represented the mouth of a serpent, opened in a frightful manner, and extremely terrifying to those who approached it for the first time.”
Plan of serpent-shaped earthworksFig. 9.—Great Serpent, Adams County, Ohio.
On the Ohio and its tributaries, and farther south,[29] where the mounds are numerous, the inclosures have more regular forms; and in the Ohio Valley very often their great extent has incited speculation. At Newark, Ohio, when first discovered, they were spread over an area more than two miles square, and still showed more than twelve miles of embankment from two to twenty feet high. Farther south, as already stated, the inclos[30]ures are fewer and smaller, or, to speak more exactly, the great inclosures and high mounds are much less common than low truncated pyramids, and pyramidal platforms or foundations with dependent works. Passing up the valley, it is found that Marietta, Newark, Ports[31]mouth, Chillicothe, Circleville, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri, and Frankfort, Kentucky, were favorite seats of the Mound-Builders. This leads one of the most intelligent investigators to remark that “the centres of population are now where they were when the mysterious race of Mound-Builders existed.” There is, however, this difference: the remains indicate that their most populous and advanced communities were at the South. Figure 10 shows a fortified hill in Butler County, Ohio.
Plan of hill and fortificationsFig. 10.—Fortified Hill, Butler County, Ohio.
Among those who have examined and described remains of the Mound-Builders, Messrs. Squier and Davis rank first in importance, because they have done most to give a particular and comprehensive account of them. Their great work, published by the Smithsonian Institution, must be regarded as the highest authority, and those who desire to study the whole subject more in detail will find that work indispensable.


Careful study of what is shown in the many reports on these ancient remains seems plainly to authorize the conclusion that the Mound-Builders entered the country at the South, and began their settlements near the Gulf. Here they must have been very numerous, while their works at every point on the limit of their distribution, north, east, and west, indicate a much less numerous border population. Remains of their works have been traced through a great extent of country. They are found in West Virginia, and are spread through Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa to Nebraska. Lewis and Clarke[32] reported seeing them on the Missouri River, a thousand miles above its junction with the Mississippi; but this report has not been satisfactorily verified. They have been observed on the Kansas, Platte, and other remote Western rivers, it is said. They are found all over the intermediate and the more southern country, being most numerous in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Texas.
This ancient race seems to have occupied nearly the whole basin of the Mississippi and its tributaries, with the fertile plains along the Gulf, and their settlements were continued across the Rio Grande into Mexico; but toward their eastern, northern, and western limit the population was evidently smaller, and their occupation of the territory less complete than in the Valley of the Ohio, and from that point down to the Gulf. No other united people previous to our time can be supposed to have occupied so large an extent of territory in this part of North America.
It has heretofore been stated that remains of this people exist in Western New York, but a more intelligent and careful examination shows that the works in Western New York are not remains of the Mound-Builders. This is now the opinion of Mr. Squier, formed on personal investigation since the great work of Squier and Davis was published.


It is usual to rank the civilized life of the Mound-Builders much below that of the ancient people of Mexico and Central America. This may be correct, for the remains as they now exist appear to justify it. But if all the ancient stone-work in Central America, with its finely-carved inscriptions and wonderful decorations, had disappeared in the ages before Europeans visited this continent, the difference might not appear to be so great; for then the Central American remains, consisting only of earth-works, truncated pyramids, pyramidal foundations, and their connected works made of earth, would have a closer resemblance to works of the Mound-Builders, to those especially found on the lower Mississippi. On the other hand, if we now had in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys remains of the more important edifices anciently constructed there, the Mound-Builders might be placed considerably higher in the scale of civilization than it has been customary to allow.
It can be seen, without long study of their works as we know them, that the Mound-Builders had a certain degree of civilization which raised them far above the condition of savages. To make such works possible under any circumstances, there must be settled life, with its accumulations and intelligently organized industry. Fixed habits of useful work, directed by intelligence, are what barbarous tribes lack most of all. A profound change in this respect is indispensable to the beginning of civilization in such tribes.
[34]No savage tribe found here by Europeans could have undertaken such constructions as those of the Mound-Builders. The wild Indians found in North America lived rudely in tribes. They had only such organization as was required by their nomadic habits, and their methods of hunting and fighting. These barbarous Indians gave no sign of being capable of the systematic application to useful industry which promotes intelligence, elevates the condition of life, accumulates wealth, and undertakes great works. This condition of industry, of which the worn and decayed works of the Mound-Builders are unmistakable monuments, means civilization.
Albert Gallatin, who gave considerable attention to their remains, thought their works indicated not only “a dense agricultural population,” but also a state of society essentially different from that of the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians. He was sure that the people who established such settlements and built such works must have been “eminently agricultural.” No trace of their ordinary dwellings is left. These must have been constructed of perishable materials, which went to dust long before great forests had again covered most of the regions through which they were scattered. Doubtless their dwellings and other edifices were made of wood, and they must have been numerous. It is abundantly evident that there were large towns at such places as Newark, Circleville, and Marietta, in Ohio. Figures 11 and 12 give views of works on Paint Creek, Ohio.
Plan showing layout of stone wallsFig. 11.—Stone-work in Paint Creek Valley, Ohio.
Their agricultural products may have been similar to many of those found in Mexico; and it is not improb[35]able that the barbarous Indians, who afterward occupied the country, learned from them the cultivation of maize. Their unity as a people, which is every where so manifest, must have been expressed in political organization, else it could not have been maintained.
Plan showing arrangement of moundsFig. 12.—Work on North Fork of Paint Creek.
Plan view of square earthworks inside a circular earthworksFig. 13.—Ancient Work, Pike County, Ohio.
Plan of earthworksFig. 14.—Elliptical Work near Brownsville, Ohio.
Plan of complex of earthworksFig. 15.—Works near Liberty, Ohio.
In the details of their works, and in manufactured articles taken from the mounds, there is evidence of considerable civilization. For instance, it has been ascer[37]

tained that the circular inclosures are perfect circles, and the square inclosures perfect squares. They were constructed with a geometrical precision which implies a kind of knowledge in the builders that may be called scientific. Figures 13141516 show some of the more[40] important works of the Mound-Builders, chiefly in Ohio. Relics of art have been dug from some of the mounds, consisting of a considerable variety of ornaments and implements, made of copper, silver, obsidian, porphyry, and greenstone, finely wrought. There are axes, single and double; adzes, chisels, drills or gravers, lance-heads, knives, bracelets, pendants, beads, and the like, made of copper. There are articles of pottery, elegantly designed and finished; ornaments made of silver, bone, mica from the Alleghanies, and shells from the Gulf of Mexico.
Plan of rectangular earthworksFig. 16.—Rectangular Work, Randolph County, Indiana.
The articles made of stone show fine workmanship; some of them are elaborately carved. Tools of some[41] very hard material must have been required to work the porphyry in this manner. Obsidian is a volcanic product largely used by the ancient Mexicans and Peruvians for arms and cutting instruments. It is found in its natural state nowhere nearer the Mississippi Valley than the Mexican mountains of Cerro Gordo.
There appears to be evidence that the Mound-Builders had the art of spinning and weaving, for cloth has been found among their remains. At the meeting of the International Congress of Pre-Historic Archæology held at Norwich, England, in 1868, one of the speakers stated this fact as follows: “Fragments of charred cloth made of spun fibres have been found in the mounds. A specimen of such cloth, taken from a mound in Butler County, Ohio, is in Blackmore Museum, Salisbury. In the same collection are several lumps of burnt clay which formed part of the ‘altar,’ so called, in a mound in Ross County, Ohio: to this clay a few charred threads are still attached.” Figures 17 and 18 represent specimens of vases taken from the mounds.
Drawing of two ceramic vesselsFigs. 17, 18.—Vases from the Mounds.
Mr. Schoolcraft gives this account of a discovery made in West Virginia: “Antique tube: telescopic device. In the course of excavations made in 1842 in the easternmost of the three mounds of the Elizabethtown group, several tubes of stone were disclosed, the precise object of which has been the subject of various opinions. The longest measured twelve inches, the shortest eight. Three of them were carved out of steatite, being skillfully cut and polished. The diameter of the tube externally was one inch and four tenths; the bore, eight tenths of an inch. This calibre was continued till within three eighths of an inch of the sight end, when it diminishes to two tenths of an inch. By placing the eye at the diminished end, the extraneous light is shut from the pupil, and distant objects are more clearly discerned.”
He points out that the carving and workmanship generally are very superior to Indian pipe carvings, and adds, if this article was a work of the Mound-Builders “intended for a telescopic tube, it is a most interesting relic.” An ancient Peruvian relic, found a few years since, shows the figure of a man wrought in silver, in the act of studying the heavens through such a tube. Similar tubes have been found among relics of the Mound-Builders in Ohio and elsewhere. In Mexico, Captain Dupaix saw sculptured on a peculiar stone structure the figure of a man making use of one. Astronomical devices were sculptured below the figure. This structure he supposed to have been used for observation of the stars. His account of it will be given in the chapter on Mexican and Central American ruins.
[43]The Mound-Builders used large quantities of copper such as that taken from the copper beds on Lake Superior, where the extensive mines yield copper, not in the ore, but as pure metal. It exists in those beds in immense masses, in small veins, and in separated lumps of various sizes. The Mound-Builders worked this copper without smelting it. Spots of pure silver are frequently found studding the surface of Lake Superior copper, and appearing as if welded to it, but not alloyed with it. No other copper has this peculiarity; but copper with similar blotches of silver has been dug from the mounds. It was naturally inferred from this fact that the ancient people represented by these antiquities had some knowledge of the art of mining copper which had been used in the copper region of Lake Superior. This inference finally became an ascertained fact.