Chapter 2 Part 1A
Combined, North America and South America cover an area of 16,000,000 square miles, more than a quarter of the land surface of the globe. To its first inhabitants, tens of thousands of years ago, this enormous domain they had discovered was literally a world unto itself; a world of miles-high mountains and vast fertile prairies, of desert shrublands and dense tropical rain forests, of frigid artic tundra and hot murky swamps, of deep and fecund river valleys, of sparkling-water lakes, of canopied woodlands, of savannahs and steppes—and thousands up thousands of miles of magnificent coast. There were places where it almost never rained, and places where it virtually never stopped. There were places where the temperature reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and places where it dropped to 80 degrees below zero. But in all these places, under all these conditions, eventually some native people made their homes.
By the time ancient Greece was falling under the control of Rome, in North America the Adena Culture already had been flourishing for a thousand years. As many as 500 Adena living sites have been uncovered by modern archaeologists. Centered in present-day Ohio, they radiate out as far as Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. We will never know how many hundreds more such sites are buried beneath modern cities and suburbs of the northeastern United States, but we do know that these early sedentary peoples lived in towns with houses that were circular in design and that ranged from single-family dwellings as small as twenty feet in diameter to multi-family units up to eighty feet across. These residences commonly were built in close proximity to large public enclosures of 300 feet and more in diameter that modern archeologists have come to refer to as “sacred circles” because of their presumed use for religious ceremonial purposes.
The buildings they constructed for the living, however, were miniscule compared with the receptacles they built for their dead: massive tombs, such as that at Grave Creek in West Virginia, that spread out hundreds of feet across and reached seven stories in height—and that were commonplace structures throughout Adena territory as early as 500 B.C. (1)
In addition to the subsistence support of hunting and fishing, and gathering the natural fruits and vegetable bounty growing all around them, the ancient Adena people imported gourds and squash from Mexico and cultivated them along with early strains of maize, tubers, sunflowers, and other plant domesticates. Another import from the south—from South America—was tobacco, which they smoked through pipes in rituals of celebration and remembrance. From neighboring residents of the area that we now know as the Carolinas they imported sheets of mica, while from Lake Superior and beyond to the north they acquired copper, which they hammered and cut and worked into bracelets and rings and other body adornments.
Overlapping chronologically with the Adena was the Hopewell Culture that grew in time to cover an area stretching in one direction from the northern Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, in the other direction from Kansas to New York. The Hopewell people, who as a group were physiologically as well culturally distinguished from the Adena, lived in permanent communities based on intensive horticulture, communities marked by enormous earthen monuments, similar to those of the Adena, that the citizenry built as religious shrines and to house the remains of their dead. (2) Literally tens of thousands of these earthen mounds once covered the American landscape from the Great Plains to the eastern woodlands, many of them precise, geometrically shaped, massive structures of a thousand feet in diameter and several stories high;
Others—such as the famous quarter-mile long coiled snake at Serpent Mound, Ohio—were imaginatively designed symbolic temples. No society that had not achieved a large population and an exceptionally high level of political and social refinement, as well as a sophisticated control of resources, could possibly have had the time or inclination or talent to design and construct such edifices.
In addition, the Hopewell people had trade networks extending to Florida in one direction and Wyoming and North Dakota in the other, through which they acquired from different nations of indigenous peoples the copper, gold, silver, crystal, quartz, shell, bone, obsidian, pearl, and other raw materials that their artisans worked into elaborately embossed and decorative metal foil, carved jewelry, earrings, pendants, charms, breastplates, and other objets d’art, as well as axes, adzes, awls, and more. Indeed, so extensive were the Hopewell trading relationships with other societies throughout the continent that archeologists have recovered from the centers of Hopewell culture in Ohio more materials originating from outside than from within the region. (3)
To the west of the Hopewell there emerged in time the innumerable villages of the seemingly endless plains—large, usually permanent communities of substantial, multi-family homes and common buildings, the villages themselves often fortified with stockades and dry, surrounding moats. These were the progenitors of the people—the Mandan, the Cree, the Blood, the Blackfoot, the Crow, the Piegan, the Hidatsa, the Arikara, the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, the Wichita, the Commanche, the Plains Cree, various separate nations of Sioux, and others, including the Ute and Shoshoni to the west—who became the classic nomads on horseback that often serve as the popular American model for all Indian societies. But even they did not resort to the pattern of life until they were driven to it by invading armies of displaced Europeans.
Indeed, although the modern horse originated in the Americas, by 10,000 B.C. or so it had become extinct there as well. The only survivors from then until their reintroduction by the Spanish were the Old World breeds that long ago had moved across Berengia in the opposite direction from that of the human migrants, that is, from east to west and into Asia. Thus, there could not have been a nomadic life on horseback for the Indians of the plains prior to European contact, because there were no horses in North America to accommodate them. On the contrary, most of the people who lived in this region were successful hunters and farmers, well established in settled communities that were centered—as are most of today’s mid-western towns—in conjunction with the rivers and adjoining fertile valleys of the Great Plains. Others did relocate their towns and villages on cyclical schedules dictated by the drastically changing seasons of this area, disassembling and reassembling their portable homes known as tipis. These dwellings were far different from the image most modern Americans have of them, however; when one of the earliest European explorers of the southwestern plains first came upon an Indian village containing scores of carefully arranged tipis “made of tanned hides, very bright red and white in color and bell-shaped… so large that in the most ordinary house, four different mattresses and beds are easily accommodated,” he marveled at their comfort and extraordinary resistance to the elements, adding that “they are built as skillfully as any house in Italy.” (4) Since the land area supporting the people of the plains included about a million square miles of earth—that is, more than twice the area of formerly Soviet Central Asia—all generalizations about the societies and cultures that occupied the land are invariably rife with exceptions. Roughly speaking, however, the Indian peoples of the western plains thrived well into the post-Columbian era on the enormous herds of bison—along with elk, deer, bears, and other game—that these descendants of ancient wooly mammoth hunters had used as their primary means of sustenance for thousands of years. The same generally was true on the southern plains. But these varied peoples also were very active traders; principally with the other, more densely settled cultures of the plains to the north and to the east who raised advanced strains of maize and beans and other lesser-known plant crops, such as the unprepossessing but widely grown prairie turnip—which has three times the protein content of the potato and nearly the same level of vitamin C as most citrus fruits. (5)
Far to the north of the plains settlements, from Baffin and Ellesmere islands, off the coast of Greenland in the east, to the Yukon and beyond in the west, lay the enormous Arctic and Subarctic areas, inhabited by the Iglulik, the Nelsilik, and other Eskimo peoples, as well as the Aleut, the Koyukon, the Ingalik, the Tanana, the Kulchin, the Han, the Nabesna, the Tagish, the Hare, the Tahltan, the Kaska, the Tsetsaut, the Sekani, the Dogrib, the Salteaux, the Naskapi, the Beothuk, and others. If it were a country in itself, this dominion today would be the seventh largest nation on earth in land area, just behind the entire continent of Australia but larger than all of India including Kashmir.
The first people to migrate here and moved into what one archaeologist has called “the coldest, darkest and most barren regions ever inhabited by man.” But they were a hardy and tenacious lot whose varied and ingenious dwellings ranged from the well known iglu snow house (usually about 30 feet in diameter and often connected by domed passageways to clusters of other iglus as well as to large common rooms for feasting and dancing) to the huge semi-subterranean barbara structures of the Aleutian Islands, each of them up to 200 feet long and 50 feet wide, and housing more than 100 people. The residents of these northernmost regions survived the rigorous tests of the natural environment, and they flourished; dark, and barren harshness later acknowledged, the early inhabitants of the Arctic and Subarctic possessed all the tools “that gave them an abundant and secure economy [and] they developed a way of life that was probably as rich as any other in the nonagricultural and non-industrial world.” (6) For subsistence, along with the fish that they caught, and the birds that sometimes flocked so thickly overhead that they threatened to cover the sky, the people of this land hunted polar bears, arctic fox, musk oxen, caribou, and narwhals, seals, and walruses.
Forbidding though this place may seem to residents of the rest of the world, to its native people there was nothing, apart from one another, that they treasured so much. Observes anthropologist Richard K. Nelson, writing of the Koyukon, a people still living there today: “To most outsiders, the vast expanse of forest, tundra, and mountains in the Koyukon homeland constitute a wilderness in the absolute sense of the word… But in fact the Koyukon homeland is not a wilderness, nor has it been for a millennia. This apparently untrodden forest and tundra country is thoroughly known by a people whose entire lives and cultural ancestry are inextricably associated with it. The lakes, hills, river bends, sloughs, and creeks are named and imbued with personal or cultural meanings. Indeed, to the Koyukon these lands are no more a wilderness than are farmlands to a farmer or streets to a city dweller.” (7) Nelson’s point is affectingly well illustrated in a story told by environmental author Barry Lopez about “a native woman [of this region], alone and melancholy in a hospital room, [who] told another interviewer she would sometimes raise her hands before her eyes to stare at them: ‘Right in my hand, I could see the shorelines, beaches, lakes, mountains, and hills I had been to. I could see the seals, birds, and game…'” (8)
From the panhandle of Alaska south through the upper northwest and on down to California border lived so many different cultural communities, densely settled and thickly populated, that we have no hope of ever recovering anything close to a complete record of their vibrant pasts.
The Makah, the Strait, the Quileute, the Nitinat, the Nooksack, the Chemakum, the Halkomelem, the Squamish, the Quinault, the Pentlatch, the Sechelt, the Twana, and the Luchootseet are a baker’s dozen of linguistically and culturally separate peoples whose communities were confined to the relatively small area that today is bound by Vancouver to the north and Seattle to the south, a distance of less than 150 miles.
Overall, however, the native peoples of the northwest coast made their homes along more than 2000 miles of coastline. Compared with other regions, archeological research has been minimal in the northwest. As a result, while traditional estimates of the population prior to European contact rarely exceed a third of a million people, many more than that probably lived along this strip of land that is more extensive than the coastline of Peru—an area that supported about 6,500,000 people in a much harsher environment during pre-Columbian times. Indeed, one recent study has put the population of British Columbia alone at over 1,000,000 prior to Western contact. (9) In addition to the coastal settlements, moreover,
even as late as the nineteenth century, after many years of wholesale devastation, more than 100 tribes representing fifteen different language groups lived on in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—including the Chelan, the Yakima, the Palouse, the Walla Walla, the Nez Perce, the Umatilla, the Cayuse, the Flathead, the Coeur D’Alene, the Kalispel, the Colville, the Kootenay, the Sanpoil, the Wenatchee, the Methow, the Okanagan, the Ntlakyapamuk, the Nicola, the Lillooct, the Shuswap, and more.
Similarly, from the northern California border down to today’s Golden Gate Bridge in the west and Yosemite National Park in the east, an area barely 250 miles by 200 miles, there lived the Tolowa, the Yurok, the Shasta, the Wiyot, the Whilkut, the Hupa, the Mattole, the Chimariko, the Yana, the Nongatl, the Wintu, the Nomlaki, the Lassik, the Wailaki, the Sinkyone, the Yuki, the Cahto, the Modoc, the Achumawi, the Atsugewi, the Maidu, the Nisenan, the Washo, the Konkow, the Patwin, the Wappo, the Lake Miwok, the Coast Miwok, the Pomo, and a branch of the Northern Piaute—to name but some of the Indian nations of this region, again, all culturally and linguistically distinct peoples, a diversity in an area of that size that probably has never been equaled anywhere else in the world. And we have not even mentioned the scores of other independent native communities and cultures that once filled the land along the entire western seaboard of Oregon and central and southern California, thick populations of people living off a cornucopia of earth and marine resources.
As in so much of ancient America, the social and political systems of the west coast cultures varied dramatically from one locale to the next. Much of the northwest, for example, was inhabited by permanent settlements of fishing and intensive foraging peoples who lived in large wooden-planked houses that often were elaborately decorated with abstract designs and stylized animal faces; many of these houses and public buildings had an image of an animal’s or bird’s mouth framing their entryways, sometimes with huge molded wooden “beaks” attached that when open served as entrance and exit ramps.
Northwest coast peoples are perhaps best known, however, for their rich and demonstrative ceremonial lives and their steeply hierarchical political systems. Thus, the most common symbolic associations we make with these cultures involve their intricately carved totem poles and ritual masks,
as well as their great status-proclaiming feasts known as potlatches. Indeed, from the time of first European contact on down to contemporary ethnohistorical investigation, to outsiders the single most compelling aspect of these peoples’ lives has always been their flamboyant display of wealth and their material extravagance. Given the natural riches of their surrounding environment—including lush and game-filled evergreen forests, salmon-thick rivers, and ocean waters warmed by the Japanese current—such festivals of conspicuous consumption are easily understood.
The peoples of resource rich California also were known for their complicated coastal-inland trade networks and for their large multi-cultural fiestas which apparently functioned in part to maintain and expand trade relationships. (10) But in addition—and in contrast to their neighbors to the north—the California peoples were noteworthy for their remarkably egalitarian and democratically ordered societies.
As anthropologists long ago demonstrated, native California peoples such as the Wintu found it difficult even to express personal domination and coercion in their language, so foreign were those concepts to their way of life. (11) And for most of California’s Indian peoples those ways of life were directly tied to the great bounty nature had given them. Although many of them were, in a technical sense, hunter-gatherer societies, so rich in foodstuffs were the areas in which they settled that they had to move about very little in order to live well. Writing of the Ohlone peoples—a general name for forty or so independent tribes and many thousands of people who inhabited the coastal area between present-day San Francisco and Monterey—Malcolm Margolin has put it well: With such a wealth of resources, the Ohlones did not depend upon a single staple. If the salmon failed to run, the people moved into the marshes to hunt ducks and geese. If the waterfowl population was diminished by a drought, the people could head for the coast where a beached whale or a run of smelts might help them through their troubles. And if all else failed, there were always shellfish: mussels, clams, and oysters, high in nutrients and theirs for the collecting… All around the Ohlones were virtually inexhaustible resources; and for century after century the people went about their daily life secure in the knowledge that they lived in a gorgeous land, a land that would always support them. (12)
“In short,” as Margolin writes, “the Ohlones did not practice agriculture or develop a rich material culture, not because they failed, but because they succeeded so well in the most ancient of all ways of life,” (13) Other California peoples did practice agriculture, however, and the very earliest European explorers found it and the number of people living in the region awe-inspiring. Describing his voyage along the southern California coast in 1542 and 1543, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo repeatedly noted in his journal comments on the large houses he observed; the “very fine valleys [with] much maize and abundant food”; the “many savannahs and groves” and “magnificent valleys” that were “densely populated” –as was, he added, “the whole coastline.” Again and again, wherever he went, he marveled at the “many pueblos,” the “dense population,” and the “thickly settled” coasts and plains. Even the small and subsequently uninhabited Santa Barbara islands, lying 25 to 70 miles off the coast—San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Santa Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, San Nicholas—were populated by a “great number of Indians” who greeted the Spanish ships in friendship and traded with them in ceremonies of peace. In all, from the islands to the coasts to the valleys and the plains that he observed, Cabrillo wrote, this “densely populated… country appears to be fine.” (14) Just what the population of California was at this time is unknown. The most commonly cited estimate is something in excess of 300,000—while other calculations have put it at 700,000 and more. (15) Although the larger figure is regarded by many scholars as excessive, both it and the lower number represents estimates for California’s Indian population only in 1769, the time of the founding of the Franciscan mission—that is, more than two centuries after initial Spanish incursions into the region. Even at the time of Cabrillo’s voyage in 1542, however, the Indian reported to him the presence of other Spaniards in the area who, he wrote, “were killing many natives.” And there is clear evidence that European diseases had a serious impact on California’s native peoples throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (16) Since, as we shall see in a later chapter, during those same two centuries the native population of Florida, was reduced by more than 95 percent, primarily by Spanish-introduced diseases, but also by Spanish violence, it is likely that the indigenous population of California also was vastly larger in the early sixteenth century than it was in 1796. A population of 300,000 for all of California, after all, works out to a population density somewhere between that of the Western Sahara and Mongolia today—hardly suggestive of Cabrillo’s “thickly settled” and “densely populated” environs. Indeed, 700,000—rather than being excessive—will in time likely turn out to have been an excessively conservative estimate.
(1) Although much more recent research has been done on the Adena, one of the best general surveys remains William S. Webb and Charles E. Snow, The Adena People (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974).
(2) The physiological distinctiveness of peoples living in different cultural and geographical realms during the centuries of Adena and Hopewell social dominance in northeastern North America has long been recognized. See, for example, Charles E. Snow, “Adena Portraiture,” in William S. Webb and Raymond S. Baby, eds., The Adena People, Number Two (Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1957), pp. 47-53.
(3) James B. Griffin, “The Midlands,” in Jesse D. Jennings, ed., Ancient North Americans (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1983), pp. 254-67. For recent discussion of the delicately incised copper, mica, obsidian, pearl, and silver jewelry and artifacts from Hopewell culture, see N’omi B. Greber and Katharine C. Ruhl, The Hopewell Site: A Contemporary Analysis Based on the Work of Charles C. Willoughby (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989).
(4) George Gaylord Simpson, Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and Through Sixty Million Years of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), esp. pp. 142-50; Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton, Native American Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 150.
(5) See Barry Kaye And D.W. Moodie; “The Psoralea Food Resource of the Northern Plains,” Plains Anthropologist, 23 (1978), 329-36.
(6) Robert McGhee, Canadian Arctic Prehistory (Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978); cited in Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986), pp. 181, 184. On the varied domestic architecture of the Arctic and Subarctic regions, see Nabokov and Easton, Native American Architecture, pp. 189-207.
(7) Richard K. Nelson, Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 245-46.
(8) Lopez, Arctic Dreams, p. 265.
(9) Noble David Cook, Demographic Collapse: Indian Peru, 1520-1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 108; Henry F. Dobyns, Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983), p. 38.
(10) Thomas Blackburn, “Ceremonial Integration and Social Interaction in Aboriginal California,” in Lowell John Bean and Thomas F. King, eds., ‘Antap: California Indian Political and Economic Organization (Los Altos, Calif.: Ballena Press, 1974), pp. 93-110.
(11) Dorothy Lee, Freedom and Culture (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1959), p. 8; see also, pp. 43-44, 80-82, 172.
(12) Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1978), p. 40.
(13) Ibid., p. 57.
(14) Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, “Relation of the Voyage of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, 1542-1543,” in Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916), pp. 13-39.
(15) Sherburne F. Cook, The Population of the California Indians, 1769-1970 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 69-71; Stephen Powers, Tribes of California [Contributions to North American Ethnology, Volume 3] (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Interior, 1877), p. 416.
(16) Cabrillo, “Relation of the Voyage,” p. 14; on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century disease episodes in California, see, for example, Phillip L. Walker, Patricia Lambert, and Michael J. DeNiro, “The Effects of European Contact on the Health of Alta California Indians,” in David Hurst Thomas, ed., Columbian Consequences, Volume One: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands West (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1989), p. 351.
This is halfway through Chapter 2 Part 1. It was such a large section, that I thought breaking it down and adding the illustrations that I wanted would be the best choice.
First and foremost, I want everyone to know where I got the cultural maps from, because they were a great compliment to the communities listed in this chapter:
While Europe and Asia progressed along their timelines of population growth, it only takes common sense to think the same of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Even with the seemingly backward thinking of scholars afflicted with cultural conceit, it would stand to reason that even with “lurking beasts”, as quoted from Chapter 1, procreation is a natural process. These people were far from the “Stone Age savages” (quoted from Samuel Eliot Morison) as is evident by archaeological evidence and detailed observations from the explorers of the time. Despite the destruction of many ancient indigenous communities due to modern cities/towns/establishments, the truth of these people are coming to light, and it would stand to reason that an educated person would look at the facts and then adjust their way of thinking. Stannard did an awesome job putting names to the masses, a technique used by hostage negotiators to make the aggressor realize that it is a person/people instead of (an) object(s). It kind of set off a light bulb in my mind that perhaps if these scholars, law makers, etc. would look these people, face to face… in the eyes, and see that they are hurting people, with feelings… then perhaps things would change? Consequences are overdue. Today, if someone still clings to the old way of thinking that the world is flat, is he not made a mockery?
I’ve found some great information on the Earthworks of the Adena and Hopewells. Please know that these are not my words, but it was packed with so much information, that I thought it would be best to let the professionals tell it, since I could feel the passion for their subject. A great website to learn about other Earthworks from the Adena and Hopewell civilizations is:
THE NEWARK EARTHWORKS: A WONDER OF THE ANCIENT WORLD The Oxford archaeologist Chris Scarre, in his book Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World (1999), lists the Newark Earthworks as one of only three sites in North America that qualify as a “wonder of the world.” Due to its impressive scale and the complexity of its plan, the site often has been featured as an illustration of the epitome of Hopewell culture earthwork construction. According to the historian Samuel Haven, Daniel Webster was so impressed with the Newark Earthworks that he “desired to have [them] preserved in perpetuity at the national charge.” If his desire had been achieved, the Newark Earthworks would have become the first of America’s National Parks and they would have been preserved nearly in their original grandeur. Unfortunately, this did not occur and today, only three components of the earthwork complex are preserved on public property. The Newark Earthworks were some of the largest geometric earthworks ever built. They originally covered more than four square miles, and more than seven million cubic feet of earth were used in their construction near what is now Newark, Ohio. A people we now call the Hopewell culture built these enclosures sometime between 100 B.C. and 400 A.D. The earthworks included a large circular enclosure (the Great Circle Earthworks), another slightly smaller circle that was linked to a large octagon (Octagon Earthworks), a large, nearly perfect square enclosure (Wright Earthworks), and an oval earthwork surrounding a dozen conical and loaf-shaped mounds. In addition, there were many smaller circular earthworks, a scattering of other mounds and pits and, on the opposite bank of the Licking River’s South Fork, yet another square enclosure and an oval earthwork encircling the top of a hill. These major elements were interconnected by a series of parallel walls that may have served as sacred roads for participants in periodic rituals.
This complicated group of monumental earthworks caused nineteenth century archaeologists Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis to say that it was “impossible to give anything like a comprehensible description of them.” During the last decades of the twentieth century, scientists asserted that the Octagon seems to incorporate the cycle for the Moon’s rising and setting in its walls. Modern archaeologists refer to Newark and similar sites as “ceremonial centers,” but they do not know the full range of activities of the Hopewell people at such places.
Although much of the Newark Earthworks were destroyed by the growth of the city of Newark, concerned citizens succeeded in preserving two major parts of the site. The Great Circle became the county fair grounds. The Octagon Earthworks became the summer campground of the Ohio National Guard and later, the golf course of Mound Builders Country Club. Wright Earthworks preserves a small corner of the square enclosure.
Great Circle Earthworks
The Great Circle is a gigantic circular enclosure 1200 feet (or four football fields) across from the crest of the wall to the opposite crest. The walls enclose an area of about 30 acres. The circular wall varies in height from five to 14 feet with a ditch or moat at the base of the wall inside the enclosure. The ditch varies in depth from eight to 13 feet and is deepest at the entrance to the circle. The walls are at their highest here as well making this a dramatic gateway to the Great Circle. According to Caleb Atwater, who visited the Newark Earthworks early in the 19th century, the ditch held water, but later scholars have been skeptical of this claim. The fact that the ditch is inside the wall rather than outside indicates it was not a defensive moat. If the ditch was intended to hold water, then perhaps it had ritual or symbolic significance.
The earth removed from the ditch formed part of the wall, but the walls are more than just the ring of soil thrown up from the excavation of the ditch. In 1992 the archaeologists Dee Anne Wymer from Bloomsburg University and Bradley Lepper from the Ohio Historical Society directed the excavation of a trench through the embankment revealing a series of construction episodes.
Initially, a circular arrangement of low mounds may have been built to provide the framework for the Great Circle. The Hopewell culture builders then dug the ditch inside the ring of mounds and placed the dark brown earth from their excavations over the small mounds forming a circular embankment separated from the ditch by about 14 feet. Finally, the Hopewell dug deep pits to uncover the yellowish brown gravelly subsoil. They used this distinctive earth to fill the gap between the ditch and the top of the dark brown earthwork. The finished earthwork would have been dark brown on the outside but yellow brown on the inside surface reflecting the different soils used in the construction of the embankment. We cannot be certain that these colors played a role in how the earthwork was supposed to have been seen by Hopewell visitors. Grass and other vegetation would have grown rapidly over the earthen embankment obscuring the colors of the underlying soils. So, unless Hopewell culture caretakers periodically cleared off the vegetation, it may be that it was only important that the different colored soils were in place, beneath the covering of vegetation, for the ceremonial machinery to operate.
An unanticipated result of the 1992 excavations was the discovery of the original A.D. 160 ground surface. Lepper and Wymer recovered samples of this soil and these yielded pollen and phytoliths indicative of the presence of prairie plants. This means that, when the earthworks were being laid out and built, the surrounding landscape was a prairie, not a forest. Hunting and gathering peoples all over the world are known to burn off sections of forest to improve the quality of the habitat for game animals. It is likely that this area had been maintained as an artificial prairie for hundreds or even thousands of years. When the Hopewell culture people were selecting sites for earthwork construction, they naturally would have been attracted to openings in the forest canopy so they wouldn’t have had to chop down huge oak and hickory trees with their stone axes.
At the center of the Great Circle is a large mound – or set of conjoined mounds. Although it is called Eagle Mound and many people seem to think it represents a bird in flight, it does not actually bear much resemblance to a bird or any other animal for that matter. Its three lobes have been compared to a bird’s foot, a bear paw print, or an arrow pointing towards the gateway. Whatever the Hopewell culture may have intended it to represent, the mound covers the site of a similarly-shaped wooden frame structure. Emerson Greenman, an archaeologist with the Ohio Historical Society, investigated Eagle Mound in 1928. He uncovered a rectangular pattern of postmolds, or stains in the soil marking the former location of wooden posts. These stains were all that remained of a log structure that would have been about 100 feet long by about 25 feet wide. At the center of this lodge there was a large rectangular basin lined with fire-hardened clay. It is similar to so-called crematory basins found in other Hopewell mounds, but Greenman found no traces of human bones in the sand that filled the shallow pit. This wooden structure must have been a special place. It was the focus of ritual activities performed at the Great Circle until the Hopewell culture occupants decided that it had served its function. They then dismantled it and erected a mound over its remains.
Octagon Earthworks are one of the most fascinating components of the Newark Earthworks. It consists of a circular enclosure connected to an octagon by a short section of parallel walls. The circular enclosure forms a nearly perfect circle 1,054 feet in diameter. It only deviates from a perfect circle of that diameter by less than four feet. It encloses an area of about 20 acres. The most interesting feature of the circle is the so-called “Observatory Mound” located along the southwestern rim opposite the opening to the octagonal earthwork. The Observatory is an elongated platform mound 170 feet long and about 12 feet in height. It appears to have been built across another opening into the circle consisting of a short segment of parallel walls.
The walls of the octagonal enclosure were each about 550 feet long and from five to six feet in height. There were gateways or openings at each corner of the octagon varying from about 50 to 90 feet in width. Each opening of the octagon is partially blocked by a rectangular or oblong platform mound about 100 feet long by 80 feet wide at the base and between five and six feet high. The octagon itself encloses nearly 50 acres.
Wright Earthworks preserve a fragment of a geometrically near-perfect square enclosure and part of one wall that originally formed a set of parallel embankments. The sides of the Newark Square ranged in length from about 940 to 950 feet and they enclosed about 20 acres. The remaining segment of wall at Wright Earthworks is less than two hundred feet long. The parallel embankments framed a passage leading from the square to a huge oval enclosure that surrounded a dozen or so burial mounds. Another set of parallel walls led from the Newark Square to the Great Circle. It is interesting to note that the perimeter of the square earthwork is precisely equal to the circumference of the circle. This is yet another indication of the remarkable sophistication of the geometry and engineering of the Newark Earthworks.
The following piece about Totem poles was featured on NPR by Robert Smith in 2002. I found it to be quite informative.
Sept. 30, 2002 — Since they were first noticed by European explorers in the 1700s, totem poles may have been misunderstood. Britain’s Captain James Cook, who encountered totem poles off the coast of British Columbia, called them “truly monstrous figures.” Early missionaries thought the poles were worshipped as gods and encouraged them to be burned. And even today, when someone refers to the “low man on the totem pole,” they may not realize that the bottom figure was often the most important one — and usually, it wasn’t a man.
For Morning Edition‘s ongoing series, Present at the Creation, NPR’s Robert Smith reports on how such misunderstandings almost destroyed the art of totem poles before they could become American cultural icons.
Not much is known about the first totem poles, says Smith: “Only that the original carvers belonged to just a few tribes that lived … on the Inside Passage, a protected waterway that runs from Seattle to Juneau. The Haida people tell stories of fully carved totem poles washing up on beaches or being spotted under the water; but there is no story of the original pole.”
Bill McLennen, a curator at the Museum of Anthology at the University of British Columbia, says historians may not know where totem poles come from, but it’s clear what they were for. Early totem poles were like billboards for rich and powerful native families, telling stories about the family and the rights and privileges it enjoyed. With early traders came more wealth, and more poles, Smith says: “Some accounts talk about 19th-century native villages with hundreds of totem poles, each one shouting out the power and wealth of the family behind it.”
The flourishing of totem poles didn’t last. The Canadian government banned the Potlatch, the huge party that accompanied the raising of totem poles. Increasingly, native children were shipped off to residential schools, and the skills of carving did not get passed on.
But even as the art was dying on the Northwest coast, totem poles were getting famous. Poles bought or stolen from native villages were showing up in museums around the world. Movies and TV shows used totem poles as generic symbols of Native American culture, when the script called for something mysterious or primitive.
Then in the 1960s and ’70s, Smith says, a coalition of native and non-native scholars set about rebuilding the art and reestablishing the significance of totem poles. Old poles were taken back from museums and restored. New poles were carved for parks and museums and collectors.
In the native village of Saxman, near Ketchikan, Alaska, tourists flock to view a stand of totem poles, some 30 and 40 feet tall. In a shed nearby, Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson deftly wields an adzeof Swiss steel, so sharp he could shave with it. With each swing of his arm, a perfect little cedar shaving teh size of a fingernail flies off. Jackson is working on a totem pole that will be erected in Anchorage–and he’s putting exquisite detail into a human figure that will sit 30 feet up, though he knows “no one will be able to appreciate that except the birds.”
Despite the precision tools and the jazz on the radio in Jackson’s workshop, much of the technique of carving totem poles hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. Jackson has studied the older poles–their detail and symmetry–and learned from the early carvers. “It’s too bad we didn’t get to see or talk to any of these guys,” he says, “because they were pretty good themselves. It’d be dandy to get a critique here or there.”