Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/December 1895/New Evidence of Glacial Man in Ohio
By Prof. G. FREDERICK WRIGHT.
THE doubt which lingers in the minds of many concerning the sufficiency of the evidence for the existence of man in America during the Glacial period is so great, and has been so industriously fomented in certain quarters, that special interest has been manifested in a fresh discovery recently brought to light in Ohio. The discovery consists of a chipped chert implement, one inch and three quarters long and three quarters of an inch wide in its broadest part, with a projecting shoulder upon one edge, giving to it the character of what, in aboriginal usage, would be called a knife. The implement was found a mile and a half below Brilliant Station on the Ohio River, six miles from Steubenville, Ohio. In view of recent doubts upon the subject, it is necessary to give special attention to the evidence in three particulars: 1. The competence and character of the discoverer. 2. The facilities for noting the undisturbed condition of the gravel in which the implement lay. 3. The evidence that the gravel is of glacial age.
1. The Competence and Character of the Discoverer.—Mr. Sam Huston, the discoverer, is a graduate of the Scientific Department of Washington and Jefferson College, and has for twenty years or more been the county surveyor of Jefferson County, Ohio, residing at Steubenville. Having charge of the public improvements of the county, especially of the construction of the turnpikes, his familiarity with the topography, and especially with the gravel deposits along the river terraces, extensively resorted to for building and ballast for railroads, is as intimate as it is possible for any one's to be. But in connection with the engrossing occupations
Fig. 1.—Talus removed, so as to show the Original Condition of the Pit a Few Feet back from the Place where the implement was found, which was marked by a *.
of his public business, Mr. Huston has maintained his love for pure science, and his valuable aid has been solicited by numerous scientific men engaged in making paleontological collections. It was Mr. Huston who discovered for Prof. Samuel H. Scudder the fossil insects of the coal measures which attracted so much attention two or three years ago. Prof. Cope has likewise been greatly indebted to Mr. Huston for fossils collected by him in the neighborhood of Steubenville. The evidence, therefore, is not that of either an unknown or an inexperienced observer.
2. The Discovery.—This I will give in Mr. Huston's own language, written out for me at my request.
"My Dear Sir: Below Brilliant, Jefferson County, Ohio, is a very fine remnant of high-level river terrace. Its length is two miles and maximum width over a quarter of a mile. On the West Virginia side of the Ohio River at that point the bluffs rise to a height of over three hundred feet, directly from the water at ordinary level. On the Ohio side there is a flood-plain from fifty to one hundred yards wide and from twenty to thirty feet above low water. Along the west side of this flood-plain is located the river division of the Cleveland and Pittsburg Railroad, along the foot of the high-level terrace. This terrace ranges from sixty-five to eighty feet above low water. Excavations in this terrace to a depth of forty-three feet show it to consist of interstratified sand, fine gravel, and clay in small quantities, all with rare exceptions cross-bedded. Coarse gravel is found at the top of the terrace; but, except for two or three feet on top, only rare pieces of gravel occur of more than one half cubic inch in size. Two small ravines cut through the terrace at Brilliant. A mile below these. Block House Run, and a mile and a half below. Riddle's Run cut through the terrace down to the flood-plain of the river. Otherwise the surface of the terrace is a plain. A half mile of turnpike was built on it, in which the original surface varied less than two feet.
Fig. 2.—General View of the Abandoned Gravel Pit.
Indian mounds and intrusive burials occur at numerous places on the terrace, but the stratification and cross-bedding of the sands and gravels of it are such that intrusive burials or excavations can not be made without leaving evidence so distinct as to be readily seen, and at the face of an excavation a slip or talus is easily detected.
"Over three years ago a sandpit was worked in this terrace at its southern extremity, below Riddle's Run. While the excavation was being made, and at a noon hour, I found a plainly marked but rude flint implement imbedded in the freshly exposed face of the stratified sand and gravel, under about eight feet of undisturbed cross-bedded stratification, only the point of the implement showing on the perpendicular face of the excavation. The condition of the stratification in all of the superincumbent eight feet, which was closely examined by me, was such as to convince me that the implement was not intrusive, but had been deposited with the remainder of the material of the terrace. The condition of the face of the excavation above the find is fairly, but not as clearly as would be desired, shown by the photograph taken by Mr. Doyle of the now abandoned sandpit where the find was made, where slips and talus cover the face.
3. Glacial Age of the Gravel.—In company with Mr. Huston, Mr. Joseph B. Doyle, and Mr. Frederick C. MacClave (to whom I am indebted for the photographs and many other favors) I visited the abandoned pit where the implement was found, and studied carefully the situation, and can add my testimony to the correctness of the above description so far as it goes. But a general discussion of the questions relating to these gravel terraces is essential for the information of the general reader.
As shown in the accompanying illustration, the Ohio River occupies a narrow valley which might almost be called a gorge, which it has eroded in the nearly parallel strata of the coal measures to an average depth of about three hundred feet. This gorge is continuous from Louisville, in Kentucky, to the headwaters of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers, a distance of more than twelve hundred miles. All the tributaries of the river occupy gorges of similar depth. This erosion has evidently taken place with considerable rapidity consequent upon an elevation of the continent at the close of the Tertiary period, giving a steep gradient to streams which, during the most of the Tertiary period, had been very sluggish. The evidence of this is seen in the narrowness of the gorge and in the gentleness of the slope above the three-hundred-foot line.
Along the three-hundred-foot level there is a line of rock shelves which contain a shallow deposit of loam and pebbles. This is very conspicuous on the Alleghany River and for some distance below Pittsburg, but rather less so as far down as Steubenville. Still, those high-level deposits are clearly marked there on both sides of the river. The most significant thing about these high-level terrace deposits is that they contain granitic pebbles^ which are a sure indication that the deposit is postglacial; for none of the tributaries of the Ohio River have access to granite rock, except as fragments have been brought over from Canada by the glacial movement and deposited within their reach.
A sharp discussion concerning the age of the gravel upon these high rock shelves is in progress. On the one hand, Prof. T. C. Chamberlin contends that there have been two glacial periods; that the first period came on before the elevation of land which led to the erosion of the rock gorge, and that therefore this erosion is wholly interglacial, and is evidence of the lapse of an extremely long time between the two periods. On the contrary, I have maintained that the evidence of two distinct glacial periods was insufficient, and have regarded the erosion of this
inner rock gorge as preglacial—that is, as having been effected during the progress of that long period of late Tertiary elevation which culminated in the Glacial period. On this view of the case, the deposits of glacial gravel upon the three-hundred-foot rock shelf have been produced partly by an extensive filling up of the Alleghany gorge as far as Pittsburg and somewhat below, and lower down by the effect of the Cincinnati ice-dam, which set back the water up to this level, and is sufficient to account for many of the facts. Under this view these high-level deposits would coincide approximately with what Dana calls the "Champlain epoch," during which there was considerable depression of land at the north, the influence of which may have been felt as far south as the latitude of Pittsburg.
But whatever may be the difference of opinion about the age of these high-level gravels, there is no disagreement about the glacial character and relatively late age of the lower terraces along the Ohio River such as occur at Steubenville and Brilliant. The rock gorge extends on the average a hundred feet below the present bottom of the river, having been filled up originally by gravel not only to that extent, but to the level of the terrace in which the implement was found. That this extensive deposition of gravel in the old rock gorge is connected with the Glacial period is clearly shown by the fact that these lower terraces can be followed up the banks of every stream which comes out of the glaciated region to the old ice border, where they emerge into the moraines which were deposited directly by the ice. This is shown in our map, on which a small portion of the glaciated area appears with Big Beaver and Little Beaver Creeks flowing out from it. The gravel terraces at Brilliant and Steubenville are shown
Fig. 4.—Map of Middle Ohio River Region.
Glaciated area, shaded. Terraces shown by dots.
on this, together with other remnants of this terrace farther up the river.
Only those streams which rise in the glaciated area have such terraces. The contrast between the Monongahela and the Alleghany in this respect is very marked. The Alleghany River throughout its course was gorged with this glacial gravel, but the Monongahela River neither had the gravel within reach nor the floods of water coming from the melting ice to distribute it if it had been within reach, therefore the gravel terraces are absent. The northern tributaries of the Ohio had both these advantages (or disadvantages), and therefore they have the terraces. On the Ohio these are always larger and higher where a tributary comes in from the glaciated region to the north, as, for example, at the mouth of Big Beaver Creek, where the terrace is a hundred and thirty feet above low-water mark. But down the river the supply of gravel diminished, and the terrace becomes correspondingly lower, being at Steubenville and Brilliant only seventy or eighty feet above low water.
I have personally examined every stream emerging from the glaciated area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and can testify that everywhere substantially the same system of gravel terraces marks them as that which characterizes the Ohio and its tributaries. Without doubt they were formed during the closing stage of the period, when both great torrents of water and vast deposits of glacial débris were periodically released by the melting ice sheet.
So far as direct evidence is concerned in estimating the age of implements in these terraces, it relates to the question whether or not they have been found in undisturbed strata of the original terrace. If they are so found they are as old as the deposition of the gravel which took place in glacial times; for since that period of deposition the action of the present river has been confined to eroding an inner channel, such as is shown in Fig. 3, and to working over the gravel within the limits of its own flood-plain. No disturbances by present floods could affect the gravel of the eighty-foot terrace. That has remained constant from the time of its original deposition.
The direct evidence, therefore, regarding this implement would seem to be as clear and positive as it is possible to be. Relying upon the strength of this, I took the implement to the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Springfield, Mass., in August last with great confidence. Nor was this misplaced. On being submitted, at a joint meeting of the Geological and Anthropological Sections, to Prof. F. W. Putnam, Mr. F. H. Gushing, Miss Alice Fletcher, and others, the corroborative indications of its antiquity were readily and emphatically recognized.
Prof. Putnam remarked upon the distinctness with which it retained the patina indicative of the conditions in which it is said to have been found, and said without hesitation that the implement in itself bore evidence of being a relic of great antiquity.
Mr. Gushing remarked that there could be no question that it was a finished implement, and not a "reject"; and that not only had it been finished by careful chipping all along the edge, but it had been finished twice, having been at least once resharpened upon its cutting edge; and, what is of special significance, that it had been sharpened not by the more modern processes, described by the speaker in a previous paper, in which the chips were broken from the edge by pressing against it with a piece of bone, but by the older process of striking against the edge with another stone. The type of the implement also was pronounced by Mr. Gushing to be the earliest known, although from the convenience of the form it has always continued in use. It was one, however, which appeared at the very dawn of human development.
Thus the circumstantial evidence connected with the implement itself confirms in a remarkable degree the direct evidence respecting it. And it deserves to be placed, as it doubtless will
be, among the most important discoveries heretofore made connecting man with the Glacial period.
In closing, I can not refrain from a few remarks concerning the conditions of life at that period, especially since the prolonged visits which I have made to the retreating ice front in Alaska and in Greenland have rendered it so much easier for me to believe in glacial man than it would have been without those experiences. The neighborhood of the ice border during the Glacial period was probably not an uncomfortable place in which to live. Even in Greenland, where there is no timber, the Eskimos manage to live in a great degree of comfort, and that too with no implements but those of stone and bone which they have made with their own hands. The importation of firearms and of iron implements has been of doubtful advantage to the Eskimos. From all accounts, they flourished better before their contact with Europeans than they have since.
Substantially the same may be said of the tribes in Alaska. There the conditions are in one respect even more closely similar to those which existed on the Delaware and Ohio Rivers where the remains of glacial man have been found in America. Like southeastern Alaska, the Delaware and Ohio Valleys were densely covered with forests. Of this we have abundant evidence in the numerous trunks of trees which were overwhelmed by the advancing ice and buried in its débris all along the margin of the glaciated area in Ohio. It was, therefore, easily within the reach of men as intelligent as the Eskimos to maintain a comfortable existence in the valley of the Ohio when the continental glacier had expanded to its farthest extent. He did not need to resort to caverns for shelter, since the forests furnished him with the readiest means for protection.
When we reflect, also, upon the completeness with which the habitations of the modern Indian have disappeared, we need not be surprised at the total disappearance of the habitations of glacial men. Nor is it strange that well-accredited discoveries of his implements have so rarely been made in the undisturbed gravel which gives us the surest evidence of his great antiquity. Naturally, the cautious inhabitant of that time would have been somewhat careful about venturing down into the river valleys, whose terrific and periodical floods were depositing the terrace gravel, and, even though the imbedded implements were much more numerous than they are, they would be relatively so few in proportion to the great mass of material that the chances of finding one in place would be extremely small. I have looked in vain for implements in the extensive gravel pits on the Chelles and the Somme in France, and so have the majority of archaeologists who have visited those famous localities. M. Reinach, the Curator of the Museum de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, has well said that one can hope personally to make discoveries of implements in place, as he would like to do, only by transforming himself into a hermit and settling down for a series of years to observe the face of the terraces where public excavations are in progress.
Meanwhile the chance discoveries by competent observers who are on the ground should be accorded their full value. Such discoveries in this country, made by Dr. C. L. Metz at Madisonville, W. C. Mills at Newcomerstown, Mr. Huston at Brilliant—all of which are well attested in Ohio and by Dr. C. C. Abbott and Profs. Putnam, Carr, and Whitney in the glacial terrace at Trenton, N. J., form a cumulative mass of evidence which can not well be resisted. So considered, the clear testimony of the ancient chipped knife discovered by Mr. Huston at Brilliant, Ohio, must go far to close the question of man's antiquity on the western continent, and to dispel the doubts upon the subject which, for one reason or another, have heretofore existed.