Monday, September 8, 2014

Atwater on Ohio's Antiquities

Caleb Atwater's 1819 memoire in the Archaeologia Americana (Vol I, 1820), entitled Description of the Antiquities discovered in the State of Ohio and other Western States (Uncle Dale Broadhurst has excerpts of Atwater's memoire, too, of course), works with a tri-partition of the antiquities, based on who produced them (p.111).
  • Indians of the Present Days
  • Europeans
  • the Mound Builders 
Atwater is familiar (p.113) with the theory that the Indians came via the Bering Strait and does not reject it at least. 

Atwater knows that the French were operating a colony in Indian country from a book by a French Jesuit, published in Paris in 1655 (p.115). It is this almost 300 years of intercourse with the Europeans that explains the intermingling of European artifacts in the finds at Indian antiquities (p.115), specifically medals which the French explorers placed (p.117), several inches across and made out of metal, when the French claimed a fort, tumulus or river mouth for the French crown. Atwater is of course aware that not all medals need to have been placed where they were retrieved, and cites some Spanish examples (p.119).

Finds of European antiquities were not limited to medals.
Swords, gun barrels, knives, pickaxes, and implements of war, are often found along the banks of the Ohio, which had been left there by the French, when they had forts at Pittsburgh, Ligonier, St. Vincents, &c. (p.119)
From a condemnation of the various forms in which such finds are placed---e.g. Roman coins---(pp.119f),  Atwater then points out that anything with alphabetical writing on it found so far was European in origin.
 In one word, I will venture to assert, that there never has been found a medal, coin, or monument, in all North America, which had on it one or more letters, belonging to any alphabet, now or ever in use among men of any age or country, that did not belong to Europeans or their descendants, and had been brought or made here since the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. (p.120)
In terms of civilization, Atwater considers the Mound Builders to be between the present-day Indians and the Europeans (p.120)
a people far more civilized than our Indians, but far less so than Europeans (p.120)
As a result, their material culture is of general interest,
to the Antiquarian, the Philosopher, and the Divine (p.120)
Atwater considers the
total absence of all historical records, or even traditionary accounts respecting them (p.121)
an interesting feature, before noting that they are found all over the habited world.
They [i.e. these Antiquities, RCK] were once forts, cemeteries, temples, altars, camps, towns, villages, race grounds, and other places of amusement, habitations of chieftains, videttes, watch towers, monuments, etc. These ancient works, especially the mounds, both of earth and stone, are found in every quarter of the habitable world. (p.121)
Atwater believes that the mound builders came from Asia and clashed with the ancestors of the modern-day Indians somewhere on the eastern side of the Alleghanies (p.122). Moving westwards,
a few small works are occasionally found, especially in Genesee county [this is the 1820 Genesee county!]; but they are few and small, until we arrive at the mouth of the Catarangus creek (p.122)
Atwater then notes that these works increase in density and size from the Lake Erie down to the "Mexican Gulph" as one proceed southwards. (p.122) Atwater was clear about the fact that the depth of burial allowed the distinction between present-day Indians (shallow) or Mound Builders (several feet deep) for material artefacts and skeletons (p.125).

Atwater discredits the idea that a polished piece of marble [a clear sign of a civilization like the Roman or Greek, RCK] was found in Medina county, Ohio; taking it instead to be
a composition of clay and sulphate of lime or plaster of Paris (p.126)
Atwater then turns to individual notable sites, beginning with the Ancient Works near Newark, Ohio (p.126).

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