I. AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.
[Geology and Archaeology.]
The sciences of geology and archaeology, working side by side, have made a wonderful progress in the past half a century. The one, seeking for the history and transformations of the physical earth, and the other, aiming to discover the antiquity, differences of race, and social and ethnical development of man, have obtained results which we cannot regard without amazement and more or less incredulity. The two sciences have been faithful handmaidens the one to the other; but geology has always led the way, and archaeology has been competed to follow in its path.
[Four Eras of Civilization.]
Though we may doubt as to the exactness of the detailed data established by the archaeologists, there are certain broad facts which we must accept from them as established beyond doubt. These facts are of the highest value and interest. The antiquary has been able, from discovered remains of extinct civilizations, to reconstruct societies and peoples, and to trace the occupancy of countries to periods far anterior to that of which history takes cognizance. The general fact seems to be settled that, in prehistoric times, Europe passed through four distinct eras. These were the Rude Stone Age, when man was the contemporary in Europe of the extinct hairy elephant and the cave bear; the Polished Stone Age; the Bronze Age, when bronze was used for arms and utensils; and the Iron Age, in which iron superseded bronze in the making of useful articles.
In the same way it has been established that, on our own continent, the oldest discoverable civilization was one in which rude stone implements were used, and man lived contemporaneously with the megatherium and the mastodon. Then polished and worked stone implements came into use; and after the lapse of ages, copper. The researches of our antiquaries have rendered it probable that America is as ancient, as an inhabited continent, as Europe. Evidences have been brought to light, leading to the conclusion that many thousands of years before the Christian era, America was the seat of a civilization far from rude or savage. Groping into the remains of the far past, we find skeletons, skulls, implements of war, and even basket-work, buried in geological strata, which have been overlaid by repeated convulsions and changes of the physical earth. But so few are the relics of this dim, primeval period, that we can only conclude its antiquity, and we can infer little or nothing of its characteristics.
Advancing, however, another stage in research and discovery, we come upon clear and overwhelming proofs of the existence on this continent of a great, enterprising, skilful, and even artistic people, spread over an immense area, and leaving behind them the most positive testimony, not only of their existence, but of their manners and customs, their arts, their trade, their methods of warfare, and their religion and worship. Compared with this people, the Red Indians found here by the Pilgrims and the Cavaliers were modern intruders upon the land. These ancient Americans, indeed, were far superior in all respects to the Red Indian of our historic acquaintance. When the Red Indians replaced them, the civilization of the continent fell from a high to a much lower plane.
The great race of which I speak is known as "the Mound-Builders." Like the "Wall-Builders" of Greece and Italy, they stand out, in the light of their remains, as distinctly as if we had historical records of them. The Mound-Builders occupied, often in thickly settled communities, the region about our great Northern Lakes, the valleys of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri, and the regions watered by the affluents of these rivers, and a wide and irregular belt along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There is little or no evidence that the same race inhabited any part of the country now occupied by the Eastern and Middle States; but some few traces of them are found in North and South Carolina.
The chief relics left by this comparatively polished race are the very numerous mounds, or artificial hills, found scattered over the country. These are sometimes ten, and sometimes forty and fifty, feet in height, with widely varying bases. They present many forms; they are circular and pyramidal, square and polygonal, and in some places are manifestly imitations of the shapes of beasts, birds, and human beings. There are districts where hundreds of these mounds appear within a limited area. Sometimes - as at Aztalan, in Wisconsin, and at Newark, in the Licking Valley - a vast series of earthwork enclosures is discovered, sometimes with embankments twelve feet high and fifty broad, within which are variously shaped mounds, definitely formed avenues, and passages and ponds. These enclosures amply prove, aside from the geological evidences of their antiquity, the existence of a race very different from the Red Indians. They were clearly a people not nomadic, but with fixed settlements, cultivators of the soil, and skilful in the art of military defence.
[Altars and Temples.]