Thursday, June 13, 2019

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


In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions. 
The research data and descriptions in this article are from the 1870s


When Europeans first penetrated to the country beyond the Appalachian Mountains; they found it covered with dense forests and presenting no evidence of ever having been cultivated, but 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, at that time living in the country, could give no account what-so-ever, or, but a very vague and unsatisfactory one and research have resulted only in theories and conjectures and these often of the wildest and most improbable character.
One of the larger-sized mounds (Site 7) found at the Sinnissippi Site in Sterling, Illinois.
In Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, many mounds are found. On the high point southwest of Albany, three or four are placed commanding a fine view of the Mississippi in both directions. (The Indians pronounced "Mississippi" as "Sinnissippi;" meaning "rocky waters.") They appear to contain only bones and these crumble as soon as exhumed. In Fenton on the slope overlooking the Rock River Bottom were several. 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 spear-head 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, and in a few instances, tablets of stone have been unearthed covered with hieroglyphic characters, [1] which seem from their grouping and arrangement to be designed as a sort of record.

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. It would be like 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, and some facts go to show that 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, 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 this people. Masses of it weighing several pounds have however been obtained in the drift of both 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.
Dr. Farquharson, of Davenport, Iowa, by means of a comparative table of the length of long bones, found that none of them belonged to a person taller than six feet. In May 1877, Mr. Holbrook examined a number of 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 laid upon clay, the wall built in an artistic manner, no cement having been used. 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. With the skulls were found a plummet, fossils that are not found in this locality, finely black polished pebbles, and a number of large teeth. In another mound was found an altar of burned rock, oval in shape, long diameter six feet, short diameter four and a half feet. The altar was of fossiliferous limestone. Over the mounds were found a vegetable growth of from one to ten feet 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. Great numbers of perfect molar teeth are exhumed, thus certifying that pre-historic man was unacquainted with the sharp pain of a toothache. In the Sterling mounds were found stone scrapers, but very rude in design and execution. Fragments of pottery were found, also 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 involved boring holes through a person's skull) are frequently met with on opening mounds, evidence being presented that the operation was made prior to 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[4] 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 apparently the king of metals among the Mound Builders and metal was worked in an imperfect manner.

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: 
"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 a 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, prove the great antiquity of the bones found in the mounds of this county.

In relation to 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 man lived in villages and that 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 most picturesque and grand localities in the county. In one of these villages in the south-western part of the town of Genesee, eighty-four arrowheads and spear points were found while plowing an acre of ground. A number of small, sharp and triangular pieces of flint that had perhaps been used for "teeth" of war-clubs were also found. In another village, on the farm of Mr. Deyo in the town of Clyde, we find the number of domestic implements to greatly exceed that of the weapons. More than one hundred scrapers, a number of stone hoes, several 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 on account of being but half-finished and revealing the method of their manufacture. 
A variety of stone arrowheads, scrapers, ax heads and other tools 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 somewhat resemble the scraper in form; they are, however, longer, less oval, 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 in length 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 an easy matter to determine their prevailing form. Broken arrowheads and spear points are sometimes found. Arrowheads once broken and chipped into specimens of different forms have been found; others bear evidence of having been broken at the point and afterward repaired. 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 the collection of Mr. Holbrook 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 very rude and imperfect, others are perfect and exhibit great skill; some appear to be very ancient, for their surfaces are weathered or corroded by the tooth of time.

Conclusion
I find that the assumptions made and thus some misinformation from this 1877 account of a pre-historic man in Whiteside County, has 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 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."
Archaeologist theorizes 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 represented by the snakeskin pattern found on the back of the tablet.

Also found on site was the Ramey Tablet. 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 collection of the Madison County Historical Museum 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”, it 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 the passage of time. There are all kinds of organic matter like decayed food, decayed grass, rocks, and dirt, which is why it usually is a bit darker than the soil beneath it.

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

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

[4] "SAVAGE" is a word defined in U.S. dictionaries as a Noun, Verb, Adjective, and Adverb. Definitions include:
  • a person belonging to a primitive society
  • malicious, lacking complex or advanced culture
  • a brutal person
  • a rude, boorish or unmannerly person
  • to attack or treat brutally
  • lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings
Unlike the term "RED MEN," dictionaries like Merriam-Webster define this term, its one-and-only definition, as a Noun meaning: AMERICAN INDIAN (historically dated, offensive today).

The term Red Men is used often in historical books, biographies, letters, and articles written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

I change this derogatory term to "INDIANS" to keep with the terminology of the time period I'm writing about.

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