Thursday, June 13, 2019

An 1870s Study of Pre-Historic Man in Whiteside County, Illinois.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


When Europeans first penetrated the country beyond the Appalachian Mountains, they found it covered with dense forests and presented no evidence of ever having been cultivated. Still, here and there were hillocks (a hill or mound) of regular form, some of them of great size, usually occupying commanding positions on the highlands overlooking streams. Besides these hillocks, evidently the work of man, there were walls of great extent, some of them enclosing tracts of many acres, in several cases of more than 100 acres in area. Of these works, the Indians living in the country at that time could give no account whatsoever but a vague and unsatisfactory one. Research has resulted only in theories and conjectures, often of the wildest and most improbable character.
One of the larger-sized mounds (Site 7) was found at the Sinnissippi Site in Sterling, Illinois.
The word "Mississippi" comes from the Ojibwe Indian Tribe (Algonquian language family) word "Messipi" or "misi-ziibi," which means "Great River" or "Gathering of Waters." French explorers, hearing the Ojibwe word for the river, recorded it in their own language with a similar pronunciation. The Potawatomi (Algonquian language family) pronounced "Mississippi" as the French said it, "Sinnissippi," which was given the meaning "Rocky Waters."

In Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, many mounds are found. Three or four are placed on the high point southwest of Albany, commanding a fine view of the Mississippi in both directions. They appear to contain only bones, which crumble as soon as exhumed. Several were in Fenton, on the slope overlooking the Rock River Bottom. In Como, a number are found. Some of these have been examined (in the 1870s), and fragments of bone were discovered. In Carroll County, Mr. J.M. Williamson found a vast collection of flint chippings, the material of several varieties as if brought from different localities, which are believed to mark the site of an arrow and spearhead production.

The articles found in mounds are of considerable variety, embracing arrow and spearheads, stone axes, shaped and pierced fragments of stone, intended either for ornament or as charms, earthenware coarse and unglazed but usually ornamented with simple designs, earthen vessels of various sizes and forms, beads, etc. Some pieces of copper and other minerals foreign to the locality and evidently esteemed for their beauty and rarity have been obtained. In a few instances, stone tablets have been unearthed and covered with hieroglyphic characters [1], which seem to be designed as a sort of record from their grouping and arrangement.

Most of the mounds were undeniably tombs, as they contain only bones and such articles as were buried with the dead; others contain nothing and seem to have been designed as places for lookouts, while others, no doubt, were at one time places at which religious exercises were held and where sacrifices were offered, and these we have reason to believe were often of human beings.

Are all the mounds the same age? Certainly not. Assuming that all of the buildings in Whiteside County were erected in the same year, then building ceased.

Were the builders the ancestors of the present Indians? There is nothing to prove that they were not; some facts show they were. 

If skeletons are of any value as evidence, then we must admit that there is a good reason for assuming those ancient builders and the present Indians to be of the same race. It's doubtful if a mound 2,000 years old exists in the United States. Seeking an age much greater than 4500 years old defies common sense because the earliest known Egyptian pyramid (at Saqqara, Egypt, the Step Pyramid of Djoser) was built around 2630 BC. Investigators, unfortunately, generally construct a theory and then search for facts to prove it, viewing each fact captured through the microscope of prejudice and prepossession, and, of course, succeed in getting at everything but the truth.

The flint implements, arrowheads and spearheads that have been discovered are of various grades of workmanship, some highly finished and others rough and clumsy. The material differs from a fine semi-translucent horn stone to a dull oolitic chert of two or more shades of color.

The earthenware is of various colors, some almost a cream tint through all shades to a dark brown. It is generally rough, coarse, as to material, thick, clumsy in form, and ornamented in geometrical designs of straight parallel lines, either of one or two series. Some specimens are, however, of a higher type, of fine form, and skillfully modeled.

The beads are generally of bone or stone. They are of irregular forms, of various sizes and were probably worn for ornament. Circular and triangular pieces of stone pierced with one or more holes seem to have been intended for the same purpose but may have been used as amulets or charms. They do not appear to have been numerous. The pieces of copper found in these tombs were probably collected from the drift, but that at one time and for a considerable length of time, it was mined on Lake Superior cannot be doubted, and it may have been an article of traffic among these people. Masses of it weighing several pounds have, however, been obtained in the drift of the Illinois River and the Rock River.

W.C. Holbrook, Esq., of Genesee, who has thoroughly investigated the labors of the mound builders in Whiteside County, presents his conclusions and observations as follows:
There are fifty-one mounds near Albany; a large number in the vicinity of Como. He has examined four mounds and two altars in Clyde. Several groups of mounds and earthworks are to be seen on Rock River above Sterling. Below the Sterling fairgrounds are twenty-two mounds, one of which is the largest in the county. The Albany mounds are rounded heaps of loose sandy soil, from two to twelve feet in height, usually circular, of a diameter five times the height. Several of the mounds are elliptical, their long diameter parallel with the river. In these mounds have been found galena, mica and fragments of pottery, the pottery bearing the impression of some kind of woven or matted fabric, bone implements and various portions of human skeletons.
Using a comparative table of the length of long bones, Dr. Farquharson of Davenport, Iowa, found that none belonged to a person taller than six feet. In May 1877, Mr. Holbrook examined several mounds north of the Catholic Cemetery in the vicinity of Sterling, one of which was a large mound, one of a number in a row parallel with the river. On moving the clay, it was found that this mound contained a Dolmen [2] built of flat pieces of fossiliferous limestone. The stones used were quite large. The wall was a right-angled parallelogram, twelve feet long and five wide; the foundation was laid upon clay, and the wall was built artistically, with no cement. The inner surface was smooth and even, although the stones were unhewn. The inside of the Dolmen revealed fragments of eight skeletons, the bones badly decomposed. Apparently, the bodies were cast into the sepulcher (a small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried ) promiscuously. The skulls found indicated that these people were acquainted with the division of surgery known as "trepanning" (removing portions of the bones of the skull or portions of other bones). A thigh bone that had been fractured was found replaced and united in a manner that would do honor to a surgeon of the present day. The skulls were found to plummet, fossils not found in this locality, finely black polished pebbles, and several large teeth. In another mound was found an altar of burned rock, oval in shape, long diameter of six feet, and short diameter of four and a half feet. The altar was of fossiliferous limestone. Over the mounds were found one to ten feet of vegetable growth and a decayed stump of a hickory tree, about twelve inches in diameter. On and about the altars were usually found charcoal and charred remains of human beings, also evidence of great and continued heat.

At Sterling, the indications are that the body was placed upon the clay, covered with black loam [3], and a great fire built over the whole. After the fire, the mound was raised. This is indicated by the thick strata of charcoal and ashes found. As a rule, the remains unearthed furnish unsatisfactory evidence. Significant numbers of perfect molar teeth are exhumed, thus certifying that pre-historic man was unacquainted with the sharp pain of a toothache. Stone scrapers were found in the Sterling mounds but were very rude in design and execution. Fragments of pottery were found, as well as implements made from the antlers of the elk and deer. 

At Sterling is a work that many call a fortress. The two embankments are parallel, 66 feet apart, in an east/west direction. The south embankment has two gateways. The north embankment is 264 feet long and has two gateways. The construction indicates a knowledge of the cardinal points of the compass (North, South, East and West). These people evidently had a practical acquaintance of astronomy, as the north star appears to have been a governing point with them.

The Mound Builders wore cloth and dressed in the hides of animals, carved rude ornaments and engraved characters upon the stone, ate food from earthen dishes, and worshiped at altars erected upon high hills and in low valleys. There are abundant reasons for believing that human sacrifice was common to them. Trepanned skulls (a form of surgery that involves boring holes through a person's skull) are frequently met with on-opening mounds, evidence being presented that the operation was made before death. The superstition of the Mound Builders seems analogous (performing a similar function but having a different evolutionary origin, such as the wings of insects and birds) to that of the South Sea Islanders and tribes of savages of the 18th & 19th centuries who trepan for vertigo, neuralgia (a stabbing, burning, and often severe pain due to an irritated or damaged nerve), etc., believing that these complaints are demons in the head that should be let out.

Copper was the king of metals among the Mound Builders, and metal was worked on imperfectly.

Anatomically considered, the Mound Builders were no larger nor stronger than the men of the 18th & 19th centuries. Their skulls differ widely from the Indian or Caucasian and have been thus described as: 
"The frontal bone recedes backward from a prominent superciliary ridge, leaving no forehead, or rather the eye looks out from under the frontal plate, very similar to a turtle shell, and no more elevated." 
Their jaws were protruding, prominent and wide. The evidence is that the Mound Builders were half-civilized agricultural people, prominently differing from the Indians in the manner of burial and habits of life. The scientifically developed fact that bones undergo great changes by age, as applied by Dr. Farquharson and Mr. Holbrook, proves the great antiquity of the bones found in the mounds of this county.

About the Stone Age of Whiteside County, Mr. Holbrook says that stone implements are occasionally found in all parts of the county. The number of implements found in some localities indicates that primitive men lived in villages, and each village had at least one arrow maker. The men of the Stone Age evidently admired the beautiful and sublime in nature, for the sites of their ancient villages are in the county's most picturesque and grand localities. In one of these villages in the southwestern part of Genesee, eighty-four arrowheads and spear points were found while plowing an acre of ground. Several small, sharp, triangular flint pieces that had perhaps been used for the "teeth" of war clubs were also found. In another village, on Mr. Deyo's farm in Clyde, we find the number of domestic implements to be greatly greater than that of the weapons. More than one hundred scrapers, stone hoes, corn pestles, and some implements of doubtful or unknown uses have been found here. Mr. Deyo plowed up about twenty scrapers that had been carefully buried near the roots of a large white oak; only a small portion of the decayed stump of the once venerable oak now remains. Some of the scrapers found in this "nest" are very interesting because they are half-finished and reveal the method of their manufacture. 
Various stone arrowheads, scrapers, ax heads and other tools are found in Illinois.
The implement maker -- for some were undoubtedly devoted to that business -- found or broke from some larger piece of flint or hornstone, a flat piece of rock; he then began to break off small flakes near the edges on one side, finishing it before he began to chip off the other side; when finished, these scrapers were oval in form, about four inches long and two and one-half broad, one side convex resembling in shape a turtle shell, the opposite side nearly flat or slightly concave. Stone hoes resemble the scraper in form; they are longer and less oval, with an edge upon one end instead of the side and the end opposite the edge smooth for the hand; they had no handles. Pestles for crushing corn are about eight inches long and two inches in diameter. Fish spears are sometimes found among the pebbles in the bottoms of the smaller streams; unfortunately, many of these specimens are broken, so it is not easy to determine their prevailing form. Broken arrowheads and spear points are sometimes found. Arrowheads have been found once broken and chipped into specimens of different forms; others bear evidence of having been broken at the point and repaired afterward. Implements for dressing hides have been found; a good specimen of this class of implements was found by J. M.Williamson in Ustick; it is a small oval boulder about eight inches in diameter and two inches thick; on one side, there is a flat and a very smooth polished surface. The materials from which the implements of the Stone Age are manufactured are all found in the drift of Whiteside County. There are, however, several exceptions: a pipe of the Minnesota pipe-stone has been found in Genesee, and a spearhead of a peculiar quality of quartzite found at Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, has been picked up in Clyde. Arrowheads were made from almost every variety of horn-stone; a few were made of milky quartz, and one in the collection of J. M. Williamson is pure yellow jasper. Stone axes weighing from four ounces to thirteen pounds have been found. An ax in Mr. Holbrook's collection weighs eleven pounds and is unfinished. Large quantities of flint chippings are found in some localities; they prove that the arrow-makers understood the conchoidal fracture and planes of cleavage of the materials used. Some specimens are rude and imperfect, others are perfect and exhibit great skill; some appear very ancient, for their surfaces are weathered or corroded by the tooth of time.

I find that the assumptions made and, thus, some misinformation from this 1877 account of a pre-historic man in Whiteside County have been mostly corrected in the 21st century. Most rough-looking arrowheads, spearheads, and tools were from youth or the inexperienced learning the trade and were tossed into piles as unusable.

History of Whiteside County, Illinois. Published: 1877
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] The Birdman tablet was discovered in 1971 during excavations at the base of the eastern side of Monks Mound conducted by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
The Real Cahokia "Birdman Tablet."
Archaeologists theorize that the bird of prey on the front of the tablet symbolically represents the Upper World. The Middle World (of man) is represented by the human figure wearing the costume, and the Lower World is defined by the snakeskin pattern on the back of the tablet.

The Ramey Tablet was also found on site. The tablet was found east of Monks Mound on the Ramey farm sometime during the 19th century. It dates to around 1250 AD. The Ramey tablet is broken in quarters. Only one-half of the tablet was found. The original Ramey tablet is in the Madison County Historical Museum collection in Edwardsville, Illinois.

The Ramey Tablet displays war symbols of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex with human heads, hair buns, beaded forelocks, ear spools, and pileated woodpeckers.
[2] A dolmen (or cromlech) is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large, flat horizontal capstone or "table." Most date from the early Neolithic (4000–3000 BC) and were sometimes covered with earth or smaller stones to form a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.

[3] Many people confuse loam soil with topsoil, but the truth is that there is a difference between the two.

"Topsoil" refers to any kind of soil that is on top. What you are walking on, riding your bike on, or turning with your shovel is known as topsoil. Topsoil is basically different kinds of organic matter that has decayed with time. There are all kinds of organic matter, like decayed food, grass, rocks, and dirt, so it is usually a bit darker than the soil beneath it.

Loam refers to a unique mixture of sand, clay, and silt. Loam is usually made of half sand, one-quarter silt, and clay. It is considered the best topsoil, as it allows enough water to be soaked into the ground to keep plants hydrated – yet it still drains well enough that air can circulate.

So, the difference between loam soil and topsoil is the exact difference between your thumb and fingers: all loam is a kind of topsoil, but not all topsoil is a kind of loam.

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