Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/79

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69
DIFFICULTIES OF DEVELOPMENT, ETC.

it is well known that it requires several generations of trees to pass away before the growth on a deserted clearing comes to correspond with that of the surrounding virgin forest, while this forest, once established, may go on growing for an unknown number of thousands of years. The 800 or 1,000 years estimate from the growth of existing vegetation is a minimum which has no bearing whatever on the actual age of these mounds, and we might almost as well attempt to determine, the time of the glacial epoch from the age of the pines or oaks which now grow on the moraines.

The important thing for us, however, is, that when North America was first settled by Europeans, the Indian tribes inhabiting it had no knowledge or tradition of any preceding race of higher civilization than themselves. Yet we find that such a race existed; that they must have been populous, and have lived under some established government; while there are signs that they practised agriculture largely, as indeed they must have done to have supported a population capable of executing such gigantic works in such vast profusion—for it is stated that the mounds and earthworks of various kinds in the State of Ohio alone amount to between eleven and twelve thousand. In their habits, customs, religion, and arts, they differed strikingly from all the Indian tribes; while their love of art and geometric forms and their capacity for executing the latter upon so gigantic a scale render it probable that they were a really civilized people, although the form their civilization took may have been very different from that of later people subject to very different influences, and the inheritors of a longer series of ancestral civilizations. We have here, at all events, a striking example of the transition, over an extensive country, from comparative civilization to comparative barbarism, the former having left no tradition, and hardly any trace of influence on the latter.

As Mr. Mott well remarks: "Nothing can be more striking than the fact that Easter Island and North America both give the same testimony as to the origin of the savage life found in them, although in all circumstances and surroundings the two cases are so different. If no stone monuments had been constructed in Easter Island, or mounds, containing a few relics saved from fire, in the United States, we might never have suspected the existence of these ancient peoples." He argues, therefore, that it is very easy for the records of an ancient nation's life entirely to perish, or to be hidden from observation. Even the arts of Nineveh and Babylon were unknown only a generation ago, and we have only just discovered the facts about the mound-builders of North America.

But other parts of the American Continent exhibit parallel phenomena. Recent investigations show that in Mexico, Central America, and Peru, the existing race of Indians has been preceded by a distinct and more civilized race. This is proved by the sculptures of the ruined cities of Central America, by the more ancient terra-Cottas