Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/499

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IT is a notable fact that the Indian tribes of northeastern America, belonging to the Iroquoian and Algonquian families, who at the first coming of the white colonists occupied the eastern portions of what are now the United States and Canada, and who are often styled savages, had two inventions or usages which are ordinarily deemed the special concomitants of an advanced civilization. These were a monetary currency and the use of a form of script for conveying intelligence and recording facts. These customs or inventions were connected with one medium, but it is probable that the inventions themselves belong to widely different periods.

In a paper which was read before the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Montreal in August, 1884, and was published in the Popular Science Monthly for January, 1886, I produced the evidence which seemed to me to show that the shell money of North America was derived from the ancient tortoiseshell money of China. This shell money preceded the metallic coins, commonly known as cash, which are circular disks of copper perforated in the center, and usually strung on a string. These came into use more than two thousand years before the Christian era. The shell money which preceded the copper cash has been traced eastwardly, through the Pelew Islands and the Micronesian groups of the North Pacific, to the coasts of California and Oregon, where it is in use among the Indians to this day, and whence it has apparently made its way across the continent to the eastern coast. As was then remarked, "The fact that the Indians of the west coast of America received their monetary system from eastern Asia or from the Pacific islands could not in itself be regarded as affording evidence that America was first peopled from that direction, just as the fact that the coinage of Bactria was derived from Greece would not indicate that the Bactrian population was of Grecian origin. All that we could infer would be some early intercourse, such as recent experience warrants us in supposing. A Chinese junk or a large Micronesian prao, drifting to the Californian coast some three or four thousand years ago, would sufficiently explain the introduction of an art so easily learned as that of making and using perforated shell disks for money."

There is good evidence, from the disclosures of the ancient mounds, to show that shell beads were largely used by the Indians of former ages as ornaments, and perhaps as valued treasures. But there seems no clear proof that they were employed for mne-