The name given to an unknown people who inhabited the central portion of North America
at an unknown period in its history.
They have left traces of agriculture and skill in arts, and evidences of having attained to a considerable degree of civilization.
All over the continent between the great range of
hills extending from the northern part of Vermont
far towards the Gulf of Mexico
and the Rocky Mountains
, traces of this mysterious people are found in the remains of earthworks, exceedingly numerous, especially in the region northward
of the Ohio River
These consist of, evidently, military works, places of sepulture, places of sacrifice, and mounds in the forms of animals, such as the buffalo, eagle, turtle, serpent, lizard, alligator, etc. It is estimated that more than 10,000 mounds and more than 2,000 earth enclosures are in the State of Ohio
One of the most interesting of these earth-enclosures is near Newark
, in the midst of the primeval forest.
It is composed of a continuous mound that sweeps in a perfect circle a mile in circumference, broken only by the entrance to it, as seen in the foreground of the engraving, where the banks, higher than elsewhere, turn outward for 50 feet or more, and form a magnificent gateway.
The embankment averages 15 or 20 feet in height, and is covered with beech, maple, and hickory trees of every size, indicating the origin of the structure to be far more remote than the advent of the Europeans in America
The ditch from which the earth was thrown is within the embankment, extending entirely around it, showing that the work was not a fortification.
In the centre of the area (which is perfectly level and covered with forest trees) is a slight elevation, in the form of a spreadeagle, covering many yards, which is called the Eagle Mound
The evidently military works sometimes occupy hundreds of acres of land, and consist of circumvallations.
On these walls ancient forest trees are now growing.
The sepulchral mounds are sometimes 60 feet in height, and always contain human remains, accompanied by earthen vessels and copper trinkets.
Some of the vessels exhibit considerable skill in the art of design.
In some of these have been found the charred remains of human bodies, showing that these people practised cremation.
The sacrificial mounds, on which temples probably stood, are truncated pyramids, with graded approaches to the tops, like those found by the Spaniards in Central America
The animal mounds usually rise only a few feet above the surface of the surrounding country.
Some of these cover a large area, but conjecture is puzzled in endeavoring to determine their uses.
The great Serpent Mound, in Adams county, O.
, is 1,000 feet in length; and in Licking county, O.
, is Alligator Mound, 250 feet in length and 50 feet in breadth.
The Grave Creek
Sepulchral Mound, not far from Wheeling, W. Va.
, is 70 feet in height and 900 feet in circumference.
The great age of these sepulchral mounds is attested, not only by the immense forest trees that grow upon them, but by the condition of human bones found in them, which do not admit of their removal, as they crumble into dust on exposure to the air. Bones in British tumuli, or mounds, older than the Christian era, are frequently taken out and
The supposed military works, more than any others, show the forecast of the soldier and the skill of the engineer.
Their works of circumvallation also show a degree of mathematical knowledge very remarkable.
These are usually upon table-lands, and often extend, in groups, several miles, but are connected with each other.
The groups are made up of squares, circles, and other mathematical figures, which range from 250 to 300 feet in diameter to a mile in circuit.
Among the groups of circumvallating mounds are sometimes seen traces of avenues of imposing width, passing between embankments several feet in height, and often connected with the enclosed area.
The squares and circles in these works are perfect squares and circles, and their immense size implies much engineering skill in their construction.
They all show some fixed and general design, for works scores of miles apart seem to indicate a common geometrical rule in their construction.
, a square and two circles are often found combined, and they usually agree in this, that each of the sides of the squares measures exactly 1,080 feet, and the adjacent circles 1,700 and 800 feet, respectively.
The moats, or ditches, found on the inside of these works indicate that they were not intended as defences, but may have been the enclosures of public parks, or the boundaries of grounds held sacred by a superstitious and religious people.
The mounds are divided by expert explorers into altar or sacrificial mounds, sepulchral mounds, temple mounds, mounds of observation, and animal mounds.
In the mounds, pottery, bronze, and stone axes, copper bracelets, bronze knives, flint arrow-points, and various other implements, belonging to the arts of both peace and war, are found.
Near the shores of Lake Superior
are evidences of ancient mining for copper, of which the present race of Indians have no traditions.
In a filled trench, 18 feet below the surface of the ground, was found a mass of copper weighing about 8 tons, raised upon a frame of wood 5 feet high, preparatory to removal.
From these mines the ancient people, 1,000 miles away, evidently obtained their copper for making their implements and ornaments.
In their pottery, and especially in their clay pipe-bowls, may be seen figures of animals and of the heads of men, made with striking fidelity to nature.
In the representations of the human head there is observed a noticeable similarity between those of the northern mound-builders and the sculptured heads found among the ruins in Yucatan
They have the same remarkable recession of the forehead and general facial angle.
found in Mexico
, and the ancient Peruvians
, whose empire was ruined by Pizarro
, may have been the remains of the mound-building race, who, by some unknown circumstances, had been compelled to abandon their more northern homes and give place to a wild and savage race of invaders.