Monday, May 5, 2014

What did the Mound Builders look like?

Sometimes when I am reading about an earthwork or an artifact I can lose sight of the idea that it was actually individual people who created these objects and sites. They lived in the same place I live, they had their own friends and neighbors and families and problems, just as I do. But what were they like? How did they dress and appear? And how much like them are we?

For more than two hundred years this has puzzled everyone who has encountered the legacy of the Mound Builders. From statesmen, professors and anthropologists, to early pioneers in the valley and farmers who have mounds dotting their fields, all of them wondered what the people were like who had created the formations. The one thing they were certain of is that whoever had created it all must not have been anything like the Native Americans they were encountering. Indeed those Native Americans could tell them nothing about, as Rev. Gatch put it, the "powerful and ingenious" people that had once occupied the area. It was clear then and remains clear today that these people must have been able to organize into hard working assemblies to build such massive earthworks and mounds, but as Gatch put in in 1832, "the enquiry is, who hath performed all this"?

The Mound Builders can be roughly broken down into three groups. The Adena came first, populating the area from about 1000BC to about 1BC, the Hopewell came next, and thrived until about 500AD. The Ft. Ancient culture came next, and they inhabited the region until about 1500AD, and then they disappeared.

Then, as native populations began to become displaced in the East, Algonquin speaking people like the Shawnee moved into the area. They were here when the first Europeans arrived, but knew nothing of the Mound Builders who had preceded them. And so it remained a mystery.

Well in 1901 that all changed. That year a farmer near Chillicothe, Ohio named Joseph Froehlich contacted the Ohio Historical Society to remove a mound on his land. The mound itself was 26 feet tall and 140 feet in diameter. It was located near the Scioto River, another favorite of the Mound Builders. He wanted it removed because, like many mounds and earthworks, it was located in choice farm land, and the farmer wanted the space.

The mound in the cornfield, pre excavation, 1901
I dont know why this guy called the Ohio Historical Society to do this but thankfully he did. Most people just took care of it themselves and destroyed the site in the process. So the mound was excavated that year by a team led by William C. Mills, curator and later director of the Ohio Historical Society Museum.
Mills and his team discovered that the mound had built in two phases, and while both layers contained artifacts, the oldest layer yielded the most. And among the thirty three burials the team encountered, they discovered an artifact so spectacular, it has been named the State Artifact of Ohio. It is a pipe, made of Ohio Pipestone (what else?) and it is in the form of an Adena man. Or at least we think he is Adena based on the mound, location, etc.
Front and back shots of the Adena Pipe, now in the collection of the Ohio Historical Society.
The pipe depicts a man wearing a patterned loin cloth and large ear spools. He is also wearing a feather bustle and some sort of head dress. It is 8" long, and the mouth piece is on the top of the head and the bowl is between the feet.
Here is a great shot of the pipe in mid-excavation

We know that these ear spools were worn because many made of copper have been found in excavations.

The pattern on the loincloth is similar to patterns found on tablet excavated from a mound in present-day downtown Cincinnati during the 19th century.

You can see the loincloth better here, and the tablet.
Very few human effigies have ever been uncovered, and none that I have ever seen or heard of is as detailed as this.
Now, if you have not read my post on The Turner Works along Round Bottom Road, you might want to do that now because I dont want to re-cap the whole site here. But it was at the Turner site during several excavations performed by Harvard University around the turn of the last century that several terra cotta figurines were found depicting "individuals or types of the same people", as Charles Willoughby put it. They were found in the remains of an altar buried in one of the mounds and Willoughby called them "the most interesting objects from this altar. No doubt, Willoughby.
 He went on to say "there is every reason to believe that the artists who fashioned them belonged to the group of people that resided here." So now we have several figurines representing different members of a Hopewell community. But what did they show us about the way these people looked and dressed and ornamented themselves? All of the figurines were broken into fragments, probably in the heat of a fire on the altar. I will show three examples of actual figurines, plus drawings of them restored with Willoughby's notes.
The Man
"This Man wears a belt, breech-cloth and large ear ornaments, His fore-knot (hair tied in a knot near the front of his head) is bound with a fillet, which is carried around the back of his head. His foot coverings consist of moccasins with short leggings attached. The upper edge of the legging is scalloped. The moccasin proper has the U-shape inset characteristic of northern Algonquin and neighboring tribes."
The Warrior
"The seated figure represents a warrior with the sides of his head shaved, leaving a ridge of short hair extending across the crown from front to back, a method of arrangement characteristic of the warriors of the Pawnee, Sac and Fox, and various other tribes."
The Matron
"This is 6 1/2" in height and represents a matron dressed in a short blanket-skirt, and low foot coverings in the general form of the woven shoes from the Kentucky caves. The hair is neatly parted, and gathered in a chignon at the back of the head. The ears are not pierced. The whole skirt is colored a dull red, and traces of paint may be seen on other parts of the figure. The eyeballs show traces of white and the lips are colored red. It seems probable that the whole effigy was originally carefully painted. The skirt is short and reaches nearly to the knees. It is the type worn by the Natchez and other tribes of the South, and is in the form of a long narrow blanket, wrapped around the hips, one corner being tucked in at the waistline at the back to hold it into place, as shown in the back of the drawing."
So now we have some idea of at least three types of Hopewell people who lived in along the Little Miami. It is interesting to see the similarities between their shoes and clothing and other, later tribes of Native people, but more interesting to see the differences; men with ear ornaments and women without, men's hair knotted above the forehead, etc. One of the figurines, a male, has his arms crossed over his abdomen. Some of the investigating team believe these figurines could have represented a mortuary scene, with the man with the crossed arms representing the corpse, and the other figurines having been placed around the corpse figure.
Also I thought I should explain two items of clothing that were mentioned- the breech cloth and the moccasins from the Kentucky caves. Here is an example of each:
There were several photos of people actually wearing a breech-cloth. As a reader, you should be glad I didn't use any of those.
I think we are so fortunate to have these images that give us at least a partial glimpse into the way they looked and dressed. We have no way to know if this would only be ceremonial dress or common, every day wear. It is likely that they had many images of people in perishable form, possibly painted on skins or cloth, but all of that is lost to time. Only the objects made of stone can endure.
Do you know of anything to do with the Mound Builders in this area? I still have a lot I need to cover, but I'm always looking for new places, especially mounds on private land that may have been forgotten. If you have any ideas for me, please leave a comment or shoot me an email!



Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Milford Works

In my last post on The Camden Works I mentioned "The Milford Works" several times. Indeed, as the name obviously suggests, this was located in present day Milford, Ohio. In the early 19th century when it was essentially intact and being written about it was usually referred to as being "near Milford" because Milford itself was much smaller and this was located in a cornfield outside of town that is most likely a Frisch's drive-thru today. Classy.

This tremendous earthwork consisted of a square and partial circle (sound familiar?) with parallel embankments that ran up a steep bluff to a smaller circle. At this point, The Milford Works takes on one of the most remarkable formations seen anywhere. As Squier and Davis put it, "from this circle diverging lines extend to the south-west, terminating in a maze of walls unlike any others which have yet fallen under notice."  Squier and Davis made a survey of this work for Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley in 1848 and wrote about it briefly. Unlike The Camden Works, they seem to have visited this work in person and produced the following survey in their book.
The authors note that "from the hill an extensive prospect is afforded, bringing in view the sites of several large groups of works in the vicinity." This suggests that The Milford Works, perhaps in conjunction with Camden and The Turner Works, could have been used as part of a larger plan. This has also been suggested with the Alligator Effigy Mound in Granville, Ohio, which offers a connected view to the nearby extensive Newark Earthworks.
So you probably know where I am going with this next. I have to figure out where it was. Like all earthworks that were destroyed during the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are debates about exactly where it was located. Squier and Davis note that as early as 1848 the walls were "much reduced, and when the crops are on the ground, are hardly traceable."
The Squier and Davis survey does not give many clues except for the placement of the river bed and a high bluff and the road labeled "Milford Chillicothe Turnpike" which today is US Rt. 50. Some stretches of it in this area are still known by another 19th Century name for it- "Wooster Pike". So wherever it was, it has to straddle Rt. 50 and be close to the East Fork. When I went over this in my head I kept turning the map and the survey and looking at the landmarks and trying to fit this in. Then, one day, as I was standing in the river bottoms along the East Fork I looked back at Milford and suddenly it made sense. Check it out:
Here you can see the East Fork about where it appears on the map, you can see where the square crosses US 50, and you can see the high bluff that is Greenlawn Cemetery in Milford. This overlooks the valley below along the East Fork, which today is a shopping area called "Milford Parkway." So I thought I had solved it. But something kept bothering me.
Two things, actually. It was a couple of notes that Squier and Davis made about the location. One of the first things they note about this earthwork is that "it occupies the third terrace, which is here broad and fertile." Well the location I gave it puts it on the first terrace, extending up to the second. My second problem comes from the location of the river. Squier and Davis wrote that "an inspection of this work shows clearly that the irregularity of the great circle is due to the nature of the ground, and that the terrace bank bordering the old bed of the East Fork existed at the period of the construction of the work. The river now flows a considerable distance to the southward." See that's a problem, because I have the East Fork still flowing just below the location where the great circle would have been. So where else could it have been?
I was starting to think it really was lost for all time. But every time I seem to think that I just dig a little deeper and usually a new character emerges who can shed some light on it.
And that's the cue for a World War I flying Ace named Dache Reeves to enter the story. I couldn't tell you much about his early life, but he was born in 1894 and like most young men in what would be coined "The Lost Generation", he served in the Great War, specializing in balloon reconnaissance and aerial photography. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action over France in 1918. Just read the account of what happened for yourself:
"While performing an important aerial mission in his balloon, Lieutenant Reeves was attacked by enemy airplanes. He hung from his basket under fire from enemy machine guns until the balloon burst into flames, when he jumped. He re-ascended as soon as another balloon could be inflated, although the air was strongly patrolled by the enemy. On 23 October near Gesnes (Meuse), he was in the basket with another observer when a circus of fifteen enemy airplanes made an attack from above. He remained in the basket until forced to jump. This officer showed extraordinary heroism be re-ascending as soon as another balloon could be made ready. Two hours later, while engaged in locating enemy batteries from his balloon, he was again attacked and the balloon burst into flames, forcing him to jump once more. In spite of these experiences this officer continued his mission in another balloon."
Wow. I've got to say that I'm blown away to read that the Army just kept sending this guy up in a hot air balloon during a WAR, even though every time he went up the balloon was immediately attacked by airplanes and he just had to hang from the basket(!) while they shot it up until it burst into flames. Then he would "jump" and survive. And was that enough for one day? Oh no. He would immediately start filling up a new balloon. This guy was like a Navy Seal of hot air balloons. Insane. You deserve the medal, sir.
Here is a photo of Lt. Reeve's medal. I cant find a picture of the actual guy so this will have to do.
I know it seems like I am getting way off topic but let me tie it in. After the war, Dache became interested in Anthropology and by the 1920s he had discovered that by using aerial photography he could still discern the lines of ancient earthworks even if the land they were on had been plowed over repeatedly. Well, luckily for us, in 1934 he captured a partial photo of The Milford Works. Take a look at this photo set I found from an actual place called The Earthworks Conservancy. Using Reeve's photo and later aerial photos that still showed traces of the eastern wall of the square, this earthwork can be fit onto this upper terrace:
So according to The Earthworks Conservancy and based on Reeve's photo, Rt 50 crossed the square just in front of Kroger/Frischs and then down by the Shopping Center/AutoZone. This puts the smaller circle and the diverging lines up the bluff along Robbie Ridge running southwest with the maze-like wall sterminating around Wallace Grove Lane, a high spot over the Valley View property and the river valley along the East Fork. These areas below Wallace Grove are known to have been have the sites of Woodland Culture villages at various points in pre-history. Now it makes sense that the bluff at the edge of the cemetery is "the terrace bank bordering the old bed" of the East Fork. In other words, when the Mound Builders created this earthwork, the river ran just below the bluff it sat on!
Further evidence that this is the actual location comes from one of Milford's earliest settlers, Rev. Philip Gatch. Born in Maryland in 1751, he was a  preacher who travelled by horseback spreading the unpopular religion "Methodism". An ardent abolitionist when everyone else in Maryland was loving having slaves, people there pretty much hated this guy. Here is his own account of how his eye was permanently maimed when attacked with hot tar by a pr0-slavery mob near Baltimore:
"The man called out for more tar, adding that I was true blue. He laid it on liberally. At length one of the company cried out in mercy- 'it is enough.' The last stroke made with the paddle with which the tar was applied, was drawn across the naked eyeball, which caused severe pain, from which I never entirely recovered."
Basically this guy needed to get out of Maryland. His travels eventually led him to present-day Milford, which he referred to as "at the forks of the Miami". In 1799 he built a cabin in what is present day Greenlawn Cemetery. In fact, the oldest tombstones in the cemetery belong to Rev. Gatch and his family. This was their family burying ground, which was later expanded to include others from Milford as well. Once here he established the first Methodist church in the Northwest Territory and is credited with having spread the religion westward. He was also a member of the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802. We know from the map that The Milford Works partially covered land on his farm so I thought surely he must have made mention of this tremendous earthwork in some of his papers, and it turns out he did. In an 1832 autobiography he wrote:
"The Land I bought proclaims a great population in past ages, ingenious and powerful; a People innured to hard labor; There is about 50 Acres inclosed by Walls, and Moun[d]s raised; the enquiry is, who hath performed all this; Not the Indians, they know nothing about it, as they say."
Gatch is referring to the Shawnee or Miami when he says "the Indians" and as they had no knowledge of who built the mounds, Gatch, like many of his contemporaries, assumed it was a much more advanced civilization than any Native Americans they had encountered. Gatch's own theory was that they had been built by an ancient band of travelling Chinese, possibly he thought these walls resembled the Great Wall he had certainly heard of.  He once explained the origin of the earthwork by saying:
"I am inclined to think that the Chinese & Tartars once dwelt here: the Chinese
are a laborious people possessed of mechanical ingénue."
While we are fairly certain that prehistoric earthworks and mounds in this area were not the handiwork of the Chinese, our explanations for their uses are, like Gatch's, really just educated guesses.
Squier and Davis wrote of The Milford Works that "it has been suggested that the structures upon the hill were devoted to rites analogous to those attending the primitive hill or grove worship of the East."
It is possible that these works were aligned with the rising and setting sun, perhaps even the constellations above. It is not too far fetched to imagine the long diverging lines of The Milford Works stretching out westward toward the last rays of the setting sun. I like discovering that Philip Gatch and Dash Reeves and even Squier and Davis all had the same curiosity I do about who built these and why. For me, the mystery is part of the fascination.


Monday, April 14, 2014

The Camden Works

I have a lot of sites that I want to cover but The Camden Works is particularly close to my heart because it was located in Terrace Park, Hamilton County, Ohio, where I live. It makes sense that the spot occupied by the village of Terrace Park today would have been attractive to the mound builders. It is a flat, fertile terrace located high on a bluff above the confluence of the Little Miami and the East Fork; just the sort of spot they seemed to prefer.

Also I should explain that the name "Camden Works" was given because "Terrace Park" didn't exist until 1893. Before that time, a serious effort was made to name the town Camden City. Today all traces of Camden are gone with exception of the pillars at the bottom of Drewry Farm Lane and Wooster Pike. They still read "Camden Terrace Farm", for an early estate on the hill.

Proposed layout for "Camden City", about 1857. "Newtown Rd" is Elm Avenue, the building marked "J.Iuen" was Iuen's Tavern, current site of UDF. Only "Washington St." would make it to Terrace Park.

The first white settlers who arrived here in 1791 most certainly noticed the mounds and earthworks but made no mention of them in surviving papers. It wasn't until the early 19th century, when Cincinnati had become a leading American city that interest in these earthworks began to be documented. The first Cincinnatian to take a serious interest and survey these earthworks was William Lytle, who made an enormous amount of money surveying lands in this area that were given as Revolutionary War grants to veterans. The Lytles had essentially founded the city, William personally founded the University of Cincinnati, and they were considered the first landed millionaires in the West. On a side note, the Lytle's gave the land where their family mansion once stood to be a park for the City of Cincinnati in perpetuity. Later when the city wanted to put a highway through the park they were blocked by the conditions of the gift and the result is Lytle Tunnel, which today runs the highway underneath the park instead. Pretty cool.

Willaim Lytle II, first to survey The Camden Works at Terrace Park
 Lytle drew the following survey of The Camden Works which was reproduced in a work titled "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis for The Smithsonian in 1848.
This is the sketch of The Camden Works produced by Lytle and reproduced by Squire and Davis in 1848.

So what are you looking at in this sketch? This is an aerial view of the earthen walls that made up the amazing formation. The circle and the square were common themes seen in the mound builder's construction, and the long, parallel walls that connect them are an often repeated feature as well. The walls are opened at the corners and in the center of each long stretch with a semi-circular enclosure on one side. How big was it? Hard to say. We are not even sure exactly how it was oriented. Squier and Davis note very little about it saying, "The work indicated by the letter A is situated upon the opposite side of the Little Miami, from that last described. The plan, which is also from a survey by Gen Lytle, sufficiently explains its character. Several mounds occur in the vicinity of this work...".

Unfortunately, the plan by Gen. Lytle does not sufficiently explain its character. At all. I don't know what Squier and Davis are even talking about. It looks like an alien crop circle, there's no indication of direction, orientation, and there are no labeled landmarks such as the river. Luckily, they do mention that similar surveys appear in "Hugh Williamson's work on the climate of America." Yes! Easy enough to find that book, right? Wrong. Impossible to find that book.

Well, almost impossible. J. Huston McCullough, PhD. at Ohio State University did locate Williamson's book on climate for a paper he wrote on the East Fork Works (again, something for a future post). He shows the Camden Works together with the Milford Works on each side of the river:

Wow- a lot more information here. This is a map showing The Camden Works in relation to The Milford Works and the river! This blew me away because you can clearly see the East Fork branching off below. This map, rough as it is, I believe pre-dates the Lytle survey making it the earliest I have found. If you follow the key to this map, it would indicate that the large square is up on the bluff running above the nature preserve in Terrace Park and along Miami Avenue, with the long parallel embankments running down the hillside to the river bottoms where the circle was located, perhaps near present day Edgewater. But again, scale is a huge issue and its hard to tell where this was, exactly. Fascinating!

Then something peculiar happens. Suddenly the description of the Camden Works changes completely. In 1922 book on nearby earthworks, Charles Clark Willoughby described the Camden Works as pictured above saying:

"....A mile or two to the north across the Little Miami River [from the Milford Works] lie the Camden Works consisting of a square and circular enclosure with connecting embankments. Several mounds belong to this group. The Milford and Camden Works were surveyed many years ago by General Lytle of Cincinnati. The plans were reproduced by Squier and Davis who describe them briefly."

I know I keep mentioning the Milford Works and they are equally mysterious and fascinating and I will write more about them in another post later. But I want to get back to the changing description of The Camden Works. So far I have shown you the drawing made by Williamson, a survey done by William Lytle sometime between probably 1801-1809 (family papers show his work attracted the attention of President Jefferson so I'm giving it these years), the description given by Squier and Davis, and a 1923 publication that describes them as well, but clearly used some old sources, possibly (or probably) the same ones we looked at.

Now enter Dr. Charles Metz, a Victorian physician in the prominent Madisonville neighborhood of Cincinnati. He also has a passion for the mound builders and his name will come up often in this blog as he had his hands in sites all over the valley. Dr. Metz describes The Camden Works much differently in his October 1878 paper on "The Prehistoric Monuments of the Little Miami Valley" where he describes it as follows:

 "In the southeast corner of Section 29 at the village of Camden and 300 feet east of the south line of Mr. Galloway's residence is the corner of an embankment which extends east and south to the river. It extends 3/4 of a mile east until it reaches the bank of the river which is here about 40 feet high. The other running south until it reaches the edge of the gravel ridge and then runs east to the river. It encloses from 800 to 1000 acres of ground. This embankment 50 years ago was six feet high and twelve feet wide. It is now scarcely traceable."

 "Mr. Galloway's residence" is a historic home in Terrace Park known as "Gravelotte", situated on Elm Avenue across from the Elementary School, seen here:

So from this description it appears to be an earthen wall that ran roughly from this property straight back to the bluff over the river on Miami, with a second wall running from the property straight towards the bluff on Princeton, then following the ridgeline back to the river. This became the accepted version of The Camden Works. It would have looked something like this:

 Are you freaking out about how awesome this map is? I know- I'm like a professional cartographer.

  So this description of an earthen wall that enclosed some acres at the southern end of the village is what became accepted as the The Camden Works, completely disregarding the amazing earthworks that had been mapped earlier. How did this happen?

Hard to say. Willoughby describes the circle, square and parallel embankments and also adds the mysterious line, "A few less important detached works in the form of circles, parallelograms and parallel embankments lie not far distant." This would indicate even more geometric earthworks in present day Terrace Park or on the river flats nearby, but there is no mention of those again anywhere- and Willoughby himself makes no mention of the earthen wall at all. And what about Dr. Metz stating that the walls enclosed 800 to 1000 acres? Certainly that is a miscalculation unless he is describing a scale much larger than I can picture.

 McCullough suggests that The Camden Works (which he only refers to as part of The Milford Works) were located further north, with the large square up on the bluff of Shawnee Run Road in Indian Hill and the smaller circle somewhere near Michigan Drive in Terrace Park. Is it possible that the greater Camden Works was located here and the earthen wall formation described by Metz is part of the "few less important detached works" described by Willoughby? Hard to say today.

 And just to make matters even worse, a contemporary of Dr. Metz, Clyde Thomas, wrote in 1894 that Squier and Davis lied about the Camden Works altogether saying "Some of the singular works described and figured...are to a large extent imaginary. Of these we may name Nos. 1 and 2, Pl. XXXIV of that work." Well The Camden Works is half of No. 2. I have to say I find this really hard to believe. Why would William Lytle, a wealthy businessman, hike out to the wilderness twenty five miles from home to draw fake surveys? It would be one thing if The Camden Works were proposed to be some ridiculously elaborate animal effigy, but not a simple geometric design like this. That would hardly be worth his time. Anyway it's hard to imagine Lytle, a man of social and political prominence and a leader in business purposely deceiving President Thomas Jefferson. Scroll back up to his portrait if you need assurance. Nope, definitely not the face of a guy who makes up maps for fun.
But here's a theory I am proposing: Lets say that when Lytle first came to "Terrace Park" in the first years of the 19th century the earthwork was still entirely intact, with the large square on the high plateau of Terrace Park extending roughly from Douglas Avenue to the bluff on Miami, down to the end of the bluff above Edgewater, back along the bluff at the ends of Lexington, Yale, Floral, and Myrtle, along the bluff to Valley View Lane, then back to Douglas. The parallel embankments would then extend down the hillside to the circle in the bottoms along present-day Edgewater, placing it at the confluence of the two rivers. It would have looked roughly like so:
 Map Drawing Skills: F-

I know that my parallel embankments look short, but remember that they are extending down a steep hill so they appear short from above. Ok, so fast forward to when Dr. Metz visits the site in the 1870s. He describes what is left of it by that time and it looks a little something like this:
 Seriously, I am probably going to get a job making maps because I am obviously amazing at it.

Metz notes that by the time he first saw The Camden Works, it was "scarcely traceable" but "50 years ago was six feet high and twelve feet wide." So he is referencing the way it looked around 1820. Ellis Rawnsley, in his 1992 book, "A Place Called Terrace Park", says that the walls enclosed 80 acres at the southern end of the village, which would correspond to my proposed location and is closer to Williamson's mention that the square encloses 60 acres. For this to be right, I am speculating that the scales of the earlier surveys were not correct but since neither Metz or Lytle could agree on the scale, I am suggesting a third plausible scale.

 And whatever the shape might have been, what were these earthworks used for?

The truth is that we don't know. For decades people believed they were forts or points of military defense, but today most scholars feel that they were related to the spirituality of the mound builders. They lived in a world dominated by Nature. Summer thunderstorms echoing through the valley, spring flowers, the winter winds- everything probably had significance for them. Some feel that these earthworks provided a place to gather and worship whatever they worshipped. Certainly it would have taken the labor of many to complete such a huge work, but archeological evidence does not suggest a large population living together here. It is likely that the mound builders lived in small villages close to each other and used these earthworks as central gathering locations. We do know that The Camden Works and various mounds in and around Terrace Park were excavated. There was a mound at the end of Douglas Avenue, and a large mound about where Wooster Pike meets Western Ave. Metz notes casually that pottery was discovered but we have no further information about what it looked like or where it is now. It is unfortunate too because he noted that the amount of artifacts recovered from the Camden Works made it "the most interesting and unique" site. Unfortunately all of that is lost to time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Turner Earthworks

Of all the prehistoric earthworks that were ever destroyed along the Little Miami, one of the greatest losses was that of the Turner Earthworks, a tremendous geometric set of mounds and works located on several elevated terraces along Round Bottom Road, less than a mile from the Odd Fellow's Cemetery mounds. Today it is difficult to picture the way it must have looked as the site was completely destroyed by gravel mining operations after World War Two. The Ohio Historical Society gives the following description of the layout:

"The Turner Earthworks included a large, oval enclosure, referred to as the Great Enclosure, connected by a set of parallel walls to a smaller circular enclosure situated on a higher terrace of the river. The Great Enclosure was 1500 feet long and 950 feet wide. The circular enclosure was 600 feet in diameter and was surrounded by a ditch. Two smaller circles and several mounds were built within the Great Enclosure and there were other mounds within the circle as well as outside the enclosure to the west. A long, narrow enclosure with rounded ends was located south of the circle. This "Long Enclosure" was nearly a half-mile long and 250 feet wide."
I also have to include this incredible map overlay done by a guy who I'd like to meet named Sean Chaney. He has a great site about earthworks all over this area. You should check it out here,
 but don't check it out for too long, it kind of kicks my little blog's ass.
In the late 1800s, Frederick Ward Putnam led several excavations of prehistoric earthworks in this area for the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Unfortunately, these guys were only wanted one thing- relics. They tore everything apart looking for pottery and pipes and axe heads and whatever they could cart off back to Harvard and they hit the jackpot when it came to the Turner Group of Earthworks. They found the remnants of altars and hearths, many burials and fantastic grave goods including items made of mica, copper, carved bone and exotic materials.
Check out these mica ornaments found at the Turner Group. Look at the depictions of bears at the top (Black Bears were common in this area at that time). Also note the comic face silhouette.
This is an unbelievable serpent effigy made from mica found at the site. The serpent was an important part of the spirituality of the mound builders and this motif was used extensively with the most well known example being the Great Serpent Mound in Adams County.
These are grizzly bear teeth inlaid with pearls. I'm serious. Grizzlies never inhabited this valley so these are evidence of the Hopewell extensive trading network. Freshwater pearls were found in the Little Miami. Putnam took these during his excavation and they are in the Peabody Museum today.
Groundstone Hematite cups/bowls. Taken by Putnam in 1886 from a burial within
The Great Enclosure.
Shell beads, re-strung. Taken from a burial within The Great Enclosure by Ernest Volk for The Peabody in 1905. Described as "under the neck of 58001." I tried to locate a photo of the remains of "58001" but couldn't find one. That's the problem with early 20th century excavations. It seems as though they wanted the beads and didn't bother to document the way they looked at the scene of discovery either by photography or sketch.
Another major discovery at the Turner site was a cache of human effigies depicting the mound builders, giving us a rare glimpse of the way they looked, dressed, groomed themselves and viewed each other. It is so fascinating and extensive I am going to have to save it for a post of its own....

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Odd Fellows Cemetery Mounds. Newtown, OH

One of the most easily identifiable mounds in the area is known as the Odd Fellows Cemetery Mound and it is located in Newtown, Ohio, one of Cincinnati's oldest communities located along the Little Miami. Founded in 1792, Newtown was originally known as Mercersberg, and settlers who came up the river to this new settlement found the area covered with mounds, earthworks and artifacts spanning the thousand plus years that native people occupied this fertile area. When Philip Turpin, an early settler in the area, constructed his stone house on Route 32 in 1800, he reported uncovering fifty skeletons while digging the cellar. In fact there is hardly a part of Newton that isn't built upon the remnants of ancient settlements and burials. Sadly, you would pretty much never know it by driving through this small town today. Nearly every mound has been destroyed after 220 years of development. The Odd Fellows Cemetery Mound survived because pioneers began burying their own around it, effectively preserving it.
here is the main mound as seen from the road

Also, I think I better add as a side note that the "Odd Fellows Cemetery" was not a cemetery for dead folks who were thought of as "odd" by people in town. Maybe that's a no-brainer to you but nobody ever seems to have heard of the Odd Fellows. They are actually a fraternal organization created to provide service to the community. People usually joined Trade Guilds such as the Masons, but these guys are "odd" in the sense that they come from various professions. Today the cemetery is actually called "Flagstone Cemetery" but the mounds are still known as "Odd Fellows." I know. Confusing.

The mound itself is oval in shape and measures 110 ft. long by 90 ft. wide, and is 11.3 ft tall at the highest point. Now just a couple of things about mounds. We do not know everything about the mounds and their purposes but we do know that they were used often but not always for burials. We believe that full body burials were reserved for only the most important people in their society, with the majority of the dead being cremated. Evidence suggests that when a person of importance died they were placed in a constructed "mortuary house" where the body was prepared. When ready, this structure would be burned with the body inside and then earth was mounded over the rubble. This must have been done with the help of many people as these cultures lacked knowledge of tools that could have sped things up. Dirt was carried in baskets, usually from another location. We know that mounds were often re-used, possibly due to amount of labor needed to construct them, so it is common to find many burials in the same mound, with new layers of mounded dirt added each time, explaining why some of the mounds reached such huge proportions.

 Often found alongside the human remains are personal items and items of significance to their spirituality. Anthropologists call these "grave goods", by the way. These grave goods, when found with skeletal remains often provide us with the most dynamic clues about their lives. For example, in 1948, a mound was excavated on Turpin Farm, not far from the Odd Fellows Cemetery. In it were the remains of a man who has come to be known as the "arrow maker" due to the amount of tools and artifacts found with his remains. These tools included arrow points, turkey leg-bone awls, cutting tools made from beaver teeth, flaking tools, an eagle claw, deer antler, and more. I have to stop right there and let that sink in. I mean, these are the very tools these guys used to make the arrowheads that spring plows turn up in fields all over this area! Turkey leg-bone awl?? Mind. Blown. Additionally, the way they were found suggests that they were carried in a leather pouch that was placed by the head of the arrow maker in his grave.

There is also a smaller mound in the Odd Fellows Cemetery that is known as Odd Fellows Mound #2 (creative name). It is much smaller- so much so that I have to admit I didn't even know it existed until I did some research. At some point in time six graves were dug into the side of the smaller mound but no artifacts were reported to be found.
Here is the second, smaller mound.
You can the rise of it to the right of the Broadwell headstone
So who built this mound? Hopewell? Adena? Ft. Ancient? We don't know. Not for sure, anyway. There are no records of the mound having ever been excavated and with no reports of grave goods it can be hard to say. Some sources attribute it to the Adena, the Woodland Indian culture that directly preceded the Hopewell. The Adena are known to have built conical form mounds but there is nothing I see in the shape of this mound that seems to be particularly Adena-esque, but I'm sure there are people who know far more about it than me. Several sites close to the mounds have been identified and excavated as villages including the Perin Site, which now lies beneath the Little Miami Golf Course, and Hahn Field, which is still excavated in the summers. (More about both of those in the future.) All of this is located on the flat, elevated terrace above the Little Miami, with the mounds in this cemetery being located about 2/3 mile south of the river. I don't know if this is true, but I think Round Bottom Road, where the mounds are located, is an ancient road. I think it was a dirt path used by the Indians along the river long before it was paved, and I think it was a game trail winding along the river even earlier. I like to think these mounds were constructed along that path more than two thousand years ago. I will post more on the Newtown sites in the future

Monday, March 24, 2014

At Home In The Little Miami River Valley

To call this blog "The Valley of the Mound Builders" is possibly unfair, as the groups of people who built mounds and earthworks in ancient times did so in many places across the Midwest and the South. But I can't get into all of that- it would take forever and it would be really boring to read through it all so for the sake of this blog, when I say "Mound Builders" I am talking about the people that thrived in present day Ohio during what is known as the "Woodland Period", roughly about 1000BCE-500CE and these cultures included the Fort Ancient, the Adena and the Hopewell.

I am fortunate enough to live in the valley of the Little Miami River which is the ancient homeland of the people we call the Hopewell. If you look at the map in the photo, the Little Miami River is the tributary of the Ohio River highlighted in black in the middle of the purple zone.
So yeah, pretty much Ground Zero for the Hopewell. The vast majority of mounds and earthworks along this river have been destroyed over the years, mostly plowed through to accommodate farming, but not all of them. Today there are more existing mounds and earthworks visible along the Scioto River, but the Little Miami was a favorite and some of the most spectacular clues about these people and their cultures were found in sites along this beautiful valley. It was their main source of water, transportation, and sometimes food. The river contains many species of freshwater mussels, some of them endangered, and these could sustain the people even when game and fish could not be found. I will research and visit these places and try to document what I can about what is left. I will also try to give more information about these cultures, the river valley itself, and anything else that I personally think is interesting.

The river itself was created during the last ice age and spans over 100 miles from its headwaters in Clark County to California, Ohio, where it drains into the Ohio River. The body of water itself was named for the Miami- Native Americans who lived in this area when the first white people arrived. The word "Miami" is Algonquin and means "land between the two rivers". Today those rivers are known as the Great Miami and the Little Miami. The Miami and Shawnee could tell the white settlers nothing about the many mounds and earthworks that dotted the valley. The earthworks were here long before those tribes had flourished in the region and they knew nothing of the people who had created them.

The last thing I should say before I get into the sites themselves is that we basically know very little about these people and what we do know is fairly speculative at best. This is mainly because they had no written language and lived a stone-age existence, so we have no historical records to uncover, no "Rosetta Stone" to decipher, and no inscriptions on anything. We don't even know what they called themselves. "Hopewell" is the name the culture was arbitrarily given in 1891 after Captain Mordecai Hopewell, who's farm in Ross County contained the mounds and earthworks that became the archetype for the culture.

 I hope you enjoy this blog. For me an interest in the Mound Builders is intertwined with a love of the Little Miami itself. Some stretches of it are as untouched and wild as they have always been, without the sounds of traffic or people or problems. When you move through these stretches, with nothing but the white bark of the sycamores in the sun and the Great Blue Herron sailing over the water, you really can picture the way their villages might have looked, the smoke from their fires, even the people themselves along the ancient bluffs. I am fascinated by the echoes of these cultures and I think of them every time I paddle down this quiet river.
Sunrise on the Little Miami River near the mouth of the East Fork, 2014