Primary Sources


Description of the Antiquities

Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States (1820)

Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and Other Western States
- Caleb Atwater

works. I should have drawn from such premises a conclusion exactly the reverse of this. I should have supposed, that the longer any people were engaged in war, the greater, in the same ratio, would be their knowledge of the art of war. Placed in such a situation, in every other part of the world, man has rapidly improved in this art. To such circumstances, many inventions and improvements owe their origin. Was there no Archimedes in the west? Or, have not the people been slandered?

As to the number of their wars, I can say nothing, because there is no history of them; but as to the number of forts here, I say there are a few, and justify no such inferences as have been attempted to be drawn.

Have our present race of Indians ever buries their dead in mounds? Have they constructed such works as are described in the preceding pages? Were they acquainted with the use of silver, or iron, or copper? All these, curiously wrought, were found in one mound in Marietta. Did the ancestors of our Indians burn the bodies of distinguished chiefs on funeral piles, then raise a lofty tumulus over the urn which contained their ashes? Did the North American Indians erect anything like the "walled town" on Paint Creek? Did they ever dig such wells that are found at Marietta, Portsmouth, and above all, such as those on Paint Creek? Did they manufacture vessels from calcareous breccia, equal to any now made in Italy? Did they ever make and worship an Idol, representing the three principal gods of India? If any person can answer any one of these questions in the affirmative, let him state facts minutely; and let this be done, not by a mere traveler[sic, whose credulity has been practiced[sic] upon by either red or white men.

By referring to the works of those American ***iters[illegible] who have affected to believe that all our antiquities belonged to the ancestors of our North American Indians, it will be seen, that this opinion has been advances to refute the representations of some Europeans, that our climate was debilitating in its effects upon the bodies and minds of the people of America, and that nature belittled every thing here. In answer to this false theory, were our writers so hardly pressed for arguments, that they were obliged to report another theory equally unfounded in the truth? Does not their argument prove exactly the reverse of what they contended for? Well might their opponents say to our writers, .It is true that all your ancient works in the west, were ***ised [illegible] by the ancestors of your Indians in North America. When they came into your country, they were half civilized, but such were the debilitating effects of your climate upon both their bodies and minds, that they degenerated into savages ** [illegible] the lowest stare of barbarism.. When proofs are brought forward that our climate or civil wars have produced such a deplorable effect, we may then believe it.

The skeletons found in our mounds never belonged to a people like our Indians. The latter are *** [illegible] tall, rather slender, strait limbed people; the former were short and thick. They were rarely over five feet high, and few were indeed six. Their foreheads were low, cheekbones rather high; their faces were very short and broad; their eyes were very large; and, they had broad chins. I have examined more than fifty skulls found in tumuli, several of which I have before me. The drawing which I have given, is a fair specimen of them. -It is one eighth part of the size of the skull from which it was taken.

The limbs of our fossils are short and very thick and resemble Germans, more than any other Europeans with whom I am acquainted.

An idol found in a tumulus near Nashville, Tennessee, and now on the museum of Mr. Clifford of Lexington, Kentucky, will probably assist us in forming some idea, as to the origin of the authors of our western Antiquities. Like the "Triune vessel," hereafter mentioned, it was made of a clay peculiar for its fineness and its use, which is quite abundant in some parts of Kentucky. With this clay, was mixed a small portion of gypsum, or sulphat of lime.


From the collections of the American Antiquarian Society



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Last updated July 18, 2005