What they were viewed as in the past and present
When Euro-American’s first started settling and trading in the Ohio and Scioto River valley’s they saw many new things but one of which that puzzled them the most were the Native American burial mounds they discovered.
At the time in question there were many ideas about what the mounds were and even who built them. The most common belief was that they were some form of abandoned fortifications. In the January 1775 issue of the Royal American it is stated that: “Who the constructors of it were, the Indians that live in the neighborhood to it, have no tradition on which we may depend.”
The mounds that were examined by the author of this article were described as followed: “This fort is situated at the head waters of the River Sciota (Portsmouth), which empties into the Ohio on the N.W.”
The Euro-American’s also realized that the mounds found at the future city of Portsmouth where not an anomaly. In the article it mentions that: “There are a number of this kind of forts, that are to be seen in the country of the Ohio, though I saw none so large and complete as this.” The Ohio region is not the only place that you can see mounds like these, there are known mounds in 11 states in the United States.
As we turn to another article, we can see what some other explanations for the Indian mounds were. The July 1, 1808 Medical Repository has an article on Indian mounds in the Scioto River Valley. Although these are not the same group of mounds as discussed in the previous article (The Portsmouth Mounds) it will still give insight to what people believed these mounds where and also who built them. “About three miles above Chillicothe, on the bank of the Scioto River, there are signs of an ancient fortification, so decayed that it is scarcely to be distinguished from the adjacent ground.” Although the writer states that these are defensive structures he comes a little further to the previous writer in truly explain these mounds. “On the inside there are twelve or fifteen mounds, supposed to have been the repositories of the dead.” He also goes on to state that: “I have been told that bones are seldom found in those (the mounds) with peaked tops;” He says that the mounds with flat tops are more likely to have bodies in them. The writer of this article exhumed some of the mounds and said that the bodies were lying east to west with the heads pointed west.
This writer was more accurate in his opinion of what these mounds where used for but had little respect for Native Americans and the following statement shows this:
“(In respect to the age of the mounds) could this be ascertained, we might form a conjecture as to the time of this country being settled by a civilized people; for it could not been the Indians, as they never buried their dead in this manner; and besides, it requires tools to raise the works, which they are not possessed of.”
In the third reading from American Antiquities I found from 1828 there is still the underlying racism toward Native Americans. The author of this article states when describing the different types of mounds that: “those which seemed to have belonged to the ancestors of the actual natives, and those which seem to indicate the presence, at some remote period, of a people more civilized than the Indians.”
The most comical thing that I found about this article was his explanation about who built the mounds: “It is Mr. Assal’s opinion that who have left these remains came from Asia by crossing the Behring Straight.” He per say is correct in that assumption, but I am assuming his time line was a bit off considering our ancestors from Asia crossed the Behring Straight during the ice age around 13 – 15,000 years ago, not a couple centuries ago as I am sure Mr. Assal believed.
As time goes on we learn more about things. Technology helps us to date and identify more accurately than ever in the past. Where these people stupid for believing what they did? In my opinion no, you can’t blame someone who is ignorant because of their lack of technology, if they had it and chose not to use it that would be a totally different thing. As far as we know the mounds found in and around the Ohio River Valley area were used as burial structures, ceremonial sites, historical markers and possibly gathering places. At this point in history, we believe that the mounds where built by the Adena, Hopewell, and other tribes of the time and they are their direct descendants became the Native American tribes of the 1700’s and today. In the past there were all types of explanations for who built the mounds which varied from the Chinese to Aztec and including my favorite, they were from the ruins of Atlantis.
Are we right in what we think we know today; who knows? With all the data we have at this current moment I have no reason to believe I am wrong, but maybe 200 years from now a student may be doing a similar paper for a similar class and when he or she is doing their research they will stumble across this blog and think, wow, this guy was really dumb. All that I can ask of you student from the future is to forgive me, we are using all the resources we have back here in 2010.