Fig. 1. — Gateway at Labna.
The purpose of this volume is to give a summary of what is known of American Antiquities, with some thoughts and suggestions relative to their significance. It aims at nothing more. No similar work, I believe, has been published in English or in any other language. What is known of American Archæology is recorded in a great many volumes, English, French, Spanish, and German, each work being confined to some particular department of the subject, or containing only an intelligent traveler’s brief sketches of what he saw as he went through some of the districts where the old ruins are found. Many of the more important of these works are either in French or Spanish, or in great English quartos and folios which are not accessible to general readers, and not one of them attempts to give a comprehensive view of the whole subject.
Therefore I have prepared this work for publication, believing it will be acceptable to many who are not now much acquainted with the remains of Ancient America, and that some who read it may be induced to study the but as Ancient America covers all time previous to the discovery by Columbus, they may not be deemed out of place. Materials for the paper on “Antiquities of the Pacific Islands” came to me from the Pacific World while I was preparing the others. The discovery of the Pacific is so intimately connected with the discovery of America, that this paper would not be out of place even if the Mexican and Peruvian traditions did not mention that a foreign people communicated with the western coast of America in very ancient times.
Worcester, Mass., November, 1871.
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 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; therefore they are called “Mound-Builders,” this name having been suggested by an important class of their works.
Fig. 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.
Fig. 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 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 furnished 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.