Mexico, as it was and as it is/Appendix 2

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Mexico, as it was and as it is  (1847)  by Brantz Mayer
APPENDIX NO. 2.

No. 2.

Since my return to the United States, I have seen the following interesting letters in the National Intelligencer, on American Antiquities, from Mr, Colcraft.

It is to be hoped that he will shortly favor the public with an accurate drawing of the characters on the tablet.


Grave Creek Flats, (Va.) August 23, 1843.

I have devoted several days to the examination of the antiquities of this place and its vicinity, and find them to be of even more interest than was anticipated. The most prominent object of curiosity is the great tumulus, of which notices have appeared in western papers; but this heavy structure of earth is not isolated. It is but one of a series of mounds, and other evidences of ancient occupation at this point, of more than ordinary interest. I have visited and examined seven mounds, situated within a short distance of each other. They occupy the summit level of a rich alluvial plain, stretching on the left or Virginia bank of the Ohio, between the junction of Big and Little Green Creeks with that stream. They appear to have been connected by low earthen intrenchments, of which plain traces are still visible on some parts of the commons. They included a well, atoned up in the usual manner, which is now filled with rubbish.

The summit of this plain is probably seventy-five feet above the present summer level of the Ohio. It constitutes the second bench or rise of land above the water. It is on this summit, and on one of the most elevated parts of it, that the great tumulus stands. It is in the shape of a broad cone, cut off at the apex, where it is some fifty feet across. This area is quite level, and commands a view of the entire plain, and of the river above and below, and the west shore of the Ohio in front. Any public transaction on this area would be visible to multitudes around it, and it has, in this respect all the advantages of the Mexican and Yucatanese teocalli. The circumference of the base has been stated at a little under nine hundred feet; its height is sixty-nine feet.

The most interesting object of antiquarian inquiry is a small flat stone, inscribed with antique alphabetic characters, which was disclosed on the opening of the large mound. These characters are in the ancient rock alphabet of sixteen right and acute angled single strokes, used by the Pelasgi and other early Mediterranean nations, and which is the parent of the modem Runic as well as the Bardic. It is now fiome four or five years since the completion of the excavations, so far as they have been made, and the discovery of this relic. Several copies of it soon got abroad, which differed from each other, and, it was supposed, from the original. This conjecture is true: neither the print published in the Cincinnati Gazette in 1839, nor that in the American Pioneer in 1843, is correct. I have terminated this uncertainty by taking copies by a scientific process, which does not leave the lines and figures to the uncertainty of man's pencil.

The existence of this ancient art here could not be admitted, otherwise than as an insulated fact, without some corroborative evidence in habits and customs, which it would be reasonable to look for in the existing ruins of ancient occupancy. It is thought some such testimony has been found. I rode out yesterday three miles, back to the range of high hills which encompass this sub-valley, to see a rude tower of stone standing on an elevated point, called Parr's point, which commands a view of the whole plain, and which appears to have been constructed as a watch-tower, or look-out, from which to descry an approaching enemy. It is much dilapidated. About six or seven feet of the work is still entire. It is circular, and composed of rough stones, without mortar, or the mark of a hammer. A heavy mass of fallen wall lies around, covering an area of some forty feet in diameter. Two similar points of observation, occupied by dilapidated towers, are represented to exist, one at the prominent summit of the Ohio and Grave Creek hills, and another on the promontory on the opposite side of the Ohio, in Belmont county, Ohio.

It is known to all acquainted with the warlike habits of our Indians, that they never evinced the foresight to post a regular sentry, and these rude towers may be regarded as of contemporaneous age with the interment of the inscription.

Several polished tubes of stone have been found in one of the lesser mounds, the use of which is not very apparent One of these, now on my table, is twelve inches long, one and a quarter wide at one end, and one and a half at the other. It is made of a fine, compact, lead-blue steatite, mottled, and has been constructed by boring, in the manner of a gun-barrel. This boring has been continued to within about three-eighths of an inch of the larger end, through which but a small aperture is left. If this small aperture be looked through, objects at a distance are more clearly seen. Whether it had this telescopic use or others, the degree of art evinced in its construction is far from rude. By inserting a wooden rod and valve, this tube would be converted into a powerful syphon or syringe.

I have not space to notice one or two additional traits, which serve to awaken new interest at this ancient point of aboriginal and apparently mixed settlement, and must omit them till my next. Yours, truly,

HENRY R. COLCRAFT.


Grave Creek Flats, August 24.

The great mound, at these flats, was opened as a place of public resort about four years ago. For this purpose a horizontal gallery to its centre was dug and bricked up, and provided with a door. The centre was walled round as a rotunda, of about twenty-five feet diameter, and a shaft was sunk from the top to intersect it; it was in these two excavations that the skeletons and accompanying relics and ornaments were found. All those articles are arranged for exhibition in this rotunda, which is lighted up with candles. The lowermost skeleton is almost entire, and in a good state of preservation, and is put up by means of wires, on the walls. It has been overstretched in the process, so as to measure six feet; it should be about five feet eight inches. It exhibits a noble frame of the human species, bearing a skull with craniological developments of a highly favorable character. The face bones are elongated, with a long chin and symmetrical jaw, in which a full and fine set of teeth, above and below, are present. The skeletons in the upper vault, where the inscription stone was found, are nearly all destroyed.

It is a damp and gloomy repository, and exhibits in the roof and walls of the rotunda one of the most extraordinary sepulchral displays which the world affords. On casting the eye up to the ceiling, and the heads of the pillars supporting it, it is found to be incrusted, or rather festooned, with a white, soft, flaky mass of matter, which had exuded from the mound above. This, apparently, animal exudation is as white as snow. It hangs in pendent masses and globular drops; the surface is covered with large globules of clear water, which in the reflected light have all the brilliancy of diamonds. These drops of water trickle to the floor, and occasionally the exuded white matter falls. The wooden pillars are furnished with the appearance of capitals, by this substance. That it is the result of a soil highly charged with particles of matter, arising from the decay or incineration of human bodies, is the only theory by which we may account for the phenomenon. Curious and unique it certainly is, and with the faint light of a few candles, it would not require much imagination to invest the entire rotunda with sylph-like forms of the sheeted dead.

An old Cherokee chief who visited this scene recently, with his companions, on his way to the West, was so excited and indignant at the desecration of the tumulus, by this display of bones and relics to the gaze of the white race, that he became furious and unmanageable; his friends and interpreters had to force him out, to prevent his assassinating the guide; and soon after he drowned his senses in alcohol.

That this spot was a very ancient point of settlement by the hunter race in the Ohio valley, and that it was inhabited by the present red race of North American Indians, on the arrival of whites west of the Alleghanies, are both admitted facts; nor would the historian and antiquary ever have busied themselves further in the matter had not the inscribed stone come to light, in the year 1839. I was informed, yesterday, that another inscription stone had been found, in one of the smaller mounds on these flats, about five years ago, and have obtained data sufficient as to its present location to put the Ethnological Society on its trace. If, indeed, these inscriptions shall lead us to admit that the Continent was visited by Europeans prior to the era of Columbus, it is a question of very high antiquarian interest to determine who the visitors were, and what they have actually left on record in these antique tablets.

I have only time to add a single additional fact. Among the articles found in this cluster of mounds, the greater part are commonplace, in our Western mounds and town-ruins. I have noticed but one which bears the character of that unique type of architecture, found by Mr. Stephens and Mr. Catherwood, in Central America and Yucatan. With the valuable monumental standards of comparison furnished by these gentlemen before me, it is impossible not to recognize, in an ornamental stone, found in one of the lesser mounds here, a specimen of similar workmanship. It is in the style of the heavy feather-sculptured ornament of Yucatan—the material being a wax yellow sand-stone, darkened by time. I have taken such notes and drawings of the objects above referred to, as will enable me, I trust, in due time, to give a connected account of them to our incipient society.

Yours truly,

HENRY R. COLCRAFT.


I have been favored with a fac-simile of this stone, by Mr. Bartlett, the learned and indefetigable Secretary of our Ethnological Society, who, in his letter communicating the drawings, observes:

"I must state a curious fact in regard to the characters on this Tablet. I have compared them with the old alphabets of Europe, and find they assimilate strongly with the letters of the old Phoenician and Anglo-Saxon. Many of the characters may be found in the ancient Greek, Etruscan, Phoenician, Cimbric or Welsh, Celt-Iberic, Anglo-Saxon, &c. In the Celt-Iberic they predominate, as almost every character is to be found in that ancient alphabet I have racked my brain not a little in trying to decipher them, and, though their value is easily ascertained, they cannot be combined so as to be rendered into anything intelligible. It is probable that we have not a correct fac-simile; but this will now be remedied, as Mr. Colcraft will take an impression in wax of the whole tablet."