Why and How the Mound Builders Departed
from Ohio circa 1550

A race of short headed mound builders first known as Adenas in Ohio (800 BC -100 AD), later as Hopewells, and then as the Fort Ancient people remained small in number as they were first tied to river beds containing mussels and their beans, pumpkins and tobacco crops. They migrated north to find better mussels beds. As Hopewells, they added corn and developed an urban society with wide trade connections. In the next stage in their development they were known as Fort Ancient people who prospered and had a rapid population growth which exceed their ability to sustain themselves by the former means. Thus, they added buffalo to their diet. As the buffalo began to be over hunted or migrate west, the Fort Ancient people began to follow them.

Before this migration began, the Fort Ancients, still in the stone age, enclosed at least six hilltop towns with earthworks, moving enormous amounts of material by hand. Many sites have several circular enclosures and parallel sided runways on traps. Even the "fortification", with gates, may have served to limit the movement of larger animals. Closing gates or sections of a runway by fire.

Feeding a town game is a commercial business needing a slaughter house, stockyards, pens, hunters, etc. E.O. Randall (1908) p 118.

Dr. Stephen D. Peet’s theory that the Ohio Mound Builders became the Mandan branch of the Dakotas is recounted by E.O. Randall (1907) (1908) and others. The Mandans were an urban society dependent upon buffalo and community gardens. They lived in 40-90 ft. dome shaped cabins on barns arranged according to a plan. One town had a population comparable to Philadelphia, PA in the early 19th century.

For a possible connection, the Wray figure from mounds at Newark, Ohio, pictured in Timeline Vol 15 no. 1 p. 2 (199) is so detailed that it must have been scratched out by the same hands that made the bear-skin jumpsuit and raised the wide eyed boy it holds. The sash and other decorations must indicate status. These with the face should provide linkage with the Mandan branch of the Dakotas. Isotopic analysis of TL-dating with a sample taken in a specified way may show this Wray figure to be made of meteoritic material that fell about 1045. Study of this Wray figure and answers to the following questions by someone versed in Indian lore should be especially helpful. This figure may be the only candid snapshot left by the Mound Builders.

1. Does Mandan folklore tell of a teenage skywatcher seeing a meteorite fall in winter with the stars of Orion (or squirrel) high in the sky? He ran in the dark to a high hill 3.02 miles (15.2 Hopewell units) finding one still warm.

2. Does the language of the Dakotas have a word like "Alligator" for first size stones pried from a corn field and carried to a conical pile by children? Or something raising from the ground to harm?

3. Was the cephalic index of the Mandans near 80? We can assume that Dr. Peet considered this, but it is important because the Ohio mound builders were not assimilated by the Indians that followed them. If they were ethnically cleansed, one would expect extrinsic damage to earthworks by the victor. Instead the Indians that followed, respected the mounds and probably did some caretaking work for Serpent mound to limit forest encroachment.

4. Did the Mandans use the Hopewell unit of length, 1050 ft? Actually this unit was 5'3". To make a 1050 ft. circle they had 100 squaws with outstretched arms line up and pivot. Breaking rank to get around smoldering trees. The end squaw dropped markers when the line was joined and straight.

5. Could the bond between the Mandans and buffalo been like a horse to its groom? Could they have kept young buffalo pets in their cabin before 1722? When they were replaced by horses as safer heat sources in winter. In Ohio, buffalo may have gathered in 300 ft. enclosures for protection from wolves near the mound builder town for as long as 200 years.

If the answers to these questions are yes, there should be something left in Ohio. There should be evidence of a change from corn to game such as remains of earthworks for a commercial business to feed a town. This is not a new idea see Randall 1908 p 118. Small enclosures 300-500 feet in diameter were located near such sites as Newark, Hopeton Works, High Banks Works, Chillicothe, Junction Group, Portsmouth Group, etc. They warrant field study unless they are hopelessly altered. We cannot expect today to find buffalo chips in one and turkey droppings in another. We know the animals would stay separated and that the use whatever it was lasted a long, long time. The builders left no unfinished earth work, Randall 1908 p 18.

Aerial pictures and false-color satellite pictures by a LANDSAT Thematic Mapper can show the present use and vegetation as they do for Serpent mound, but field work aided by laboratory tests called infrared finger prints of solids and TL-glow curves are needed.

The objective in this work should be to find if the mound builders did use earth works and fire to control game as a major source of food. Lacking refrigeration pens for live animals would be an important link in the food chain. The tests proposed can bring out differences both in organic matter and in clay, ashes, bones, etc. For wood ash the type of tree and ground water should register in both infrared spectra and TL-glow curves.

Clay may register differences in long use by the way OH and H20 is bound as well as the silicate structure not evident by color alone. Test the fines from wet screening, grab samples, not composites.

To date their departure, it would be nice to know when the buffalo left or were killed off. Buffalo are nearly a domesticated animal, but grass was limited in the forests of Ohio. Dating ashes from the last round up by fire, in the runway traps, is a possibility for TL-age. If charcoal and C-14 are used to date, remember that the windblown branches available to them were 40 to 200 years old. Dating of stopover places and crude stone mausoleums are another possibility because traces of civilization in each stopover place are present. Lacking saws or steel axes, sturdy poles were hard to find. They may have carried the equivalent of our 2 X 4's and 4 X 4's from Ohio to the Dakotas.

These Fort Ancient people could have decided town by town to move with some domino effect. Some individuals may have sounded warnings or even planted more corn, but the evening the town’s herd did not collect in their coral; everyone moved.

They walked along the buffalo trails carrying everything. Their boats were not big enough and buffalo avoided rivers. Even today some of the roads in Ohio still follow these same trails.

Each group set up a series of camps making trips between them. They returned to harvest crops and in some cases to bury the bones of the dead in old cemeteries. Mounds show intrusive addition of bundles of bones.

This method of travel with lack of records added to the mystery surrounding these people. They left little more than earthworks in Ohio and they were about 200 years older than their move.

To better understand these activities additional dates are needed from more kinds of material. Archaeologists have reports of finding mussel shells, bone, antlers, box turtle shells and wood ash which have enough carbonate content to give dates by C14. Burnt rock, ashes, burnt bone, burnt antler, burnt clay, potsherd, etc. can also be dated by TL. These dates can be measured when the substance is heated above about 400° C and allowed to cool. This process in the case of antlers and bones converts them into a TL phosphors.

copyrightSeptember 1999 Dr. Carl F. Swinehart

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