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Title: Incentives to the Study of the Ancient Period of American History - An address, delivered before the New York Historical - Society, at its forty-second anniversary, 17th November 1846
Author: Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864
Language: English
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At a special meeting of the New York Historical Society, November 17th,
1846, being the Forty-Second Anniversary of the Society, Hon. LUTHER
BRADISH in the Chair, on motion of Mr. PHILIP HONE, it was unanimously

_Resolved_, That the thanks of the Society are due to Mr. HENRY R.
SCHOOLCRAFT, for his learned and interesting Address, delivered this
evening, and that a copy be respectfully requested to be deposited in
the archives of the Society, and published.

Extract from the Minutes.


_Recording Secretary_.


To narrow the boundaries of historical mystery, which obscures the
early period of the American continent, is believed to be an object of
noble attainment. Can it be asserted, on the ground of accurate
inquiry, that man had not set his feet upon this continent, and
fabricated objects of art, long anterior to the utmost periods of the
monarchies of ancient Mexico and Peru? Were there not elements of
civilization prior to the landing of Coxcox, or the promulgation of the
gorgeous fiction of Manco Capac? What chain of connection existed
between the types of pseudo-civilization found respectively at Cuzco,
west of the Andes, and in the valley of Anahuac? Did this chain ever
link in its causes the pyramids of Mexico with the mounds of the
Mississippi valley? It is not proposed to enter into the details of
this discussion. Such an inquiry would far transcend the limits before
me. It is rather designed to show the amplitude of the field as a
subject of historical inquiry, than to gather its fruits. It will
entirely compass the object I have in view, if the suggestions I am to
make shall have the tendency, in any degree, to draw attention to the
topic, and to denote the strong incentives which exist, at the present
time, to study this ancient period of American history. This is the
object contemplated.

Nations, in their separation from their original stocks, and dispersion
over the globe, are yet held together by the leading traits, physical
and intellectual, which had characterized them as groups. And in
spreading abroad, they are found to have left behind them a golden
clue, which we recognize in physiology, languages, arts, monuments, and
mental habitudes. These traits are so intimately interwoven in the woof
of the mind, and so firmly interlaced in the structure and tendencies
to action of the whole organization of the man, that they can be
detected and generalized after long eras of separation, and the most
severe mutations of history. Such is the judgment, at least, of modern
research. Ethnology bases its claims to confidence in the recognition
of the dispersed family of man, in these proofs. And when they have
been eliminated from the dust of antiquity, they are offered as
contributions to the body of well considered facts and inferences,
which are to compose the thread of antique history and critical

And what, it may be inquired, are the evidences the study produces,
when these means of scrutiny come to be applied to the existing red
race of this continent? or to their predecessors in its occupancy? Do
their languages tell the story of their ancient affinities with Asia,
Africa, or Europe? Do we see, in their monuments and remains of art,
increments of a pre-existing state of advance, or refinement, in the
human family, in other parts of the globe? It is confessed, that in
order to answer these enquiries, we must first scrutinize the several
epochs of the nations with whom we are to compare them, and the changes
which they themselves have undergone. Without erecting these several
standards of comparison, no certainty can attend the labor. All nations
and tribes upon the face of the globe, whom we can make sponsors for
the American tribes, are thus constituted the field of study, and we
have opened to our investigations a theme at once noble and sublime.
Philosophy has no higher species of inquiry, beneath Infinitude, than
that which establishes the original affinities of man to man.

We perceive, in casting our minds back on the track of nations from
whom we are ourselves sprung, a strong and clear chain of philological
testimony, running through the various nations of the great Thiudic[1]
type, until it terminates in the utmost regions of the north. This
chain of affiliation, though it had a totally diverse element in the
Celtic, to begin with, yet absorbed that element, without in the least
destroying the connection. It runs clearly from the Anglo Saxon to the
Frisic, or northern Dutch, and the Germanic, in all its recondite
phases, with the ancient Gothic, and its cognates, taking in very wide
accessions from the Latin, the Gallic, and other languages of southern
Europe; and it may be traced back, historically, till it quite
penetrates through these elementary masses of change, and reveals
itself in the Icelandic. Two thousand five hundred years, assuming no
longer period, have not obliterated these affinities of language. Even
at this day, the Anglo Saxon numerals, pronouns, most of the terms in
chronology, together with a large number of its adverbs, are well
preserved in the Icelandic. And had we no history to trace our national
origin, the body of philological testimony, which can be appealed to,
would be conclusive of the general question.

      [1] Forster.

Does Asia offer similar proofs of the original identity, or parentage
of its languages with America? This cannot be positively asserted. But
while there is but little analogy in the sounds of the lexicography, so
far as known, it is in this quarter of the globe, that we perceive
resemblances in some words of the Shemitic group of languages, positive
coincidences in the features of its syntax, and in its unwieldy
personal and polysyllabical and aggregated forms; and the inquiry is
one, which may be expected to produce auspicious results. On the
assumption of their Asiatic origin, therefore, it is evident that the
Indian tribes are of far greater antiquity than the Anglo Saxon. Not
only so, but they appear on philological proofs to be older, in their
national phasis, if we except, perhaps, the Chinese, than the present
inhabitants of the north-eastern coasts of Asia, and the East India
Islands. But we are not to pursue this topic. The general facts are
merely thrown out, to denote the far reaching and imperious
requirements of philology.

When we examine the American continent, with a view to its ancient
occupancy, we perceive its surface scarified with moats and walls--its
alluvial level plains and vallies bearing mounds, teocalli and
pyramids. Its high interior altitudes, in the tropical regions, are
covered with the ruins of temples and cities--and even in the temperate
latitudes of the north, its barrows and mounds are now found to yield
objects of exquisite sculpture, and many of its forests, beyond the
Alleghanies, exhibit the regularity of antique garden beds and
furrows,[2] amid the heaviest forest trees. Objects of art and
implements of war, and even of science, are turned up by the plough.
These are silent witnesses. With the single exception of the
inscription stone, found in the great tumulus of Grave Creek, in
Virginia, in the year 1838,[3] there is no monument of art on the
continent, yet discovered, which discloses an alphabet, and thus
promises to address posterity in an articulate voice. We must argue
chiefly from the character of the antique works of art.

      [2] MSS. of the Am. Ethn. Society. Vide Catalogue, Vol. I.

      [3] Trans. Am. Ethn. Society. Vol. I.

But although the apparent hieroglyphics of Yucatan and Central America
have not been read, nor a history of much incident, or a remote
antiquity, deduced from the pictorial scrolls of Mexico, it is
impossible not to assign to the era of American antiquities, a degree
of arts, science, agriculture and general civilization, to which the
highest existing nomadic or hunter tribes had no pretence. It is a
period of obscurity, of which inquirers might perhaps say, that the
darkness itself is made to speak. It tells of the displacement of
light. All indeed beyond the era of Columbus, is shrouded in historical
gloom. We are thus confined within the short cycle of some three
hundred and fifty years. A little less than twelve generations of men.
Beyond this period, we have an ante-historical period, which is filled,
almost exclusively, with European claimants of prior discovery. We will
name them in their order. They are the Scandinavians, the Cimbri and
tribes of Celtic type, and the Venetians. Still prior, is the Asiatic
claim of a predatory nation, who, in the days of the Exodus, lived in
caves and dens of the earth, under the name of Horites,[4] and who
culminated at a later era, under the far-famed epithet of
Phoenicians--a people whose early nautical skill has, absolutely, no

      [4] Forster.

Scandinavian antiquities have recently assumed the highest interest,
which the press and the pencil can bestow. Danish art and research have
achieved high honors in disinterring facts from the dust of forgotten
ages. And we may look to the illustrated publications, which have been
put forth at Copenhagen, under royal auspices, as an example of what
literary costume and literary diligence, may do to revive and
re-construct the antiquarian periods of the world's history. The
publication of the ancient northern Sagas, and the ballads of the
Scandinavian Skalds, has revealed sufficient of the history of the
early and bold adventures, in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth
centuries, to show that these hardy adventurers not only searched the
shores of Iceland and Greenland, and founded settlements and built
churches there; but pushed their voyages west to the rocky shores of
Heluiland, the woody coasts of Markland, and the vine-yielding coasts
of ancient Vinland. These three names geography has exchanged in our
days, for Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. Perhaps some
other portions of New England may be embraced by the ancient name of

The ancient songs and legends of a people may be appealed to, as these
Sagas and ballads have been, for historical proof, as it is known that
the early nations celebrated their heroic exploits, in this manner.
Authors tell us that Homer but recited the traditions of his
countrymen. The nautical and geographical proofs, by which portions of
the North Atlantic shores have been identified by the bold spirit of
northern research, are certainly inexact and to some extent
hypothetical. In extending the heretofore admitted points of discovery
and temporary settlement, south to Massachusetts and Rhode Island, they
carry with them sufficient general plausibility, as being of an early
and adventurous age, to secure assent. And they only cease to inspire a
high degree of historical respect, at the particular points where the
identification becomes extreme, where the pen and pencil have to some
extent distorted objects, and where localities and monuments are
insisted on, which we are by no means sure ever had any connection with
the acts of the early Scandinavian adventurers, and sea kings. This
period of the ante-Columbian era, is one of deep interest in American
history, and invites a careful and candid scrutiny, with a sole eye to
historical truth.

We have also a Celtic period, falling within the same general era of
the Scandinavian, which, at least, deserves to be examined, if it be
only to clear away the rubbish that encumbers the threshold of the
ancient period of our Indian history. This claim to discovery, rests
chiefly upon a passage in old British history, which represents two
voyages of a Welsh Prince, who in the twelfth century, sailed west from
the coasts of Britain, and is thought by some writers, to have reached
this continent. The discovery of Columbus was of such an astounding
character and reflected so eminent a degree of honor, both on him and
the Court which had employed this noble mariner, that it is no wonder
other countries of maritime borders, should rake up the arcana of their
old traditions, to share in the glory. If these ancient traditions have
left but little worthy of the sober pen of history, they have imposed
on us, as cultivators of history, the literary obligation to examine
the facts and decide upon their probability. If Prince Madoc, as this
account asserts, sailed a little south of west, he is likely to have
reached and landed at the Azores. It is not incredible, indeed, that
small ships, such as the Britons, Danes and Northmen used, should have
crossed the entire Atlantic at the era, between the vernal and autumnal
equinoxes, although it is not probable. It is nearly certain, however,
that should such a feat have been performed in the twelfth century, the
natives of the American coasts, who were inimical to strangers, would,
in no long period, have annihilated them. With a full knowledge of the
warlike and suspicious elements of Indian character, such a result
might have been predicted in ordinary cases. But that these tribes, or
any one of them, should have adopted, as is contended, the _language_
of a small and feeble colony of foreigners, either landing or stranded
on the coast; nay more, so fully adopted it as to be understood by any
countrymen of the Prince, five hundred years afterwards,[5] is a proof
of the national credulity of men, who are predetermined to find the
analogies which they ardently seek.

      [5] Vide Stoddart's Louisiana.

Italy has likewise a claim to the discovery of this continent, prior to
the voyages of Columbus. This claim is made by an ancient family of the
highest rank in the city of Venice--once the mistress of the commerce
of the world. The voyages of the two Zenos, over the northern seas, in
the 14th century, extending to Greenland, appear to be well attested by
the archives of that ancient city. The episode of Estotiland, which is
apparently used as a synonyme for Vinland, has been generally deemed
apocryphal, or of a date posterior to the other incidents described. To
examine and set in order both the true and the intercalated parts of
these curious ancient voyages, would involve no little degree of
research, but would prove, if well executed, a useful and acceptable
service to historical letters.

There is another period--we allude to the Horitic element--in the
obscurity of the early history of the continent, which may be here
mentioned, but from the diversity of the sub-elements which enter into
it, some hesitancy exists in giving it a name. In order to secure the
purposes of generalization, and include every element of which it is
composed, it may be called, provisionally, the MEDITERRANEAN PERIOD. It
is the earliest and most obscure of the whole, relying, as it does,
almost exclusively upon passages of the imaginative literature of
Greece. Yet it is a subject eminently worthy of the pen of original
investigation. It includes the consideration of the early maritime
power of the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, and other
celebrated nations and cities who, long before the Christian era, drew
the attention and governed the destinies of the world. It was in this
quarter of the globe, forming, as it does, the cementing point between
Europe and Asia, that an alphabet arose at a very early day, and prior
to that of Greece or Rome, which consisted almost exclusively of
straight or angular marks. From its use it has sometimes been called
the Rock Alphabet. It has its equivalents in the more full and exact
Hebrew and Greek characters, so far as the old alphabet extended. It
had, as these changes progressed and the family of man spread, the
various names of Phoenician, Ostic, Etruscan, Punic, ancient Greek and
Gallic, Celtiberic, Runic, Druidical and others. As a system of
notation, it appears to occupy an epoch between the hieroglyphic system
of Egypt and the Greek alphabet. But whatever may be said of its
origin, affinities, changes, or character, it is clear that this simple
alphabet spread westward among the barbaric nations of Europe,
changing, in some measure, in its forms of notation and the articulate
sounds it represented, until it reached the utmost limits of its
western and northern coasts and islands. Here it served as the means of
recording human utterance, until it was supplanted and obliterated by
the civilization of Rome and the Roman alphabet. To decypher the
ancient inscriptions in this simple character, found upon rocks and
monuments, is an object, at this day, of learned research; and its
importance may be judged of by observing, that, whenever successfully
effected, it is a literal restoration, to the present age, of the lost
sounds of those parts of the ancient world. I will no farther allude to
this period, so important in its means of research, than to add, that
the inscription, found in 1838, on opening the gigantic pile of earth,
or tumulus, heretofore referred to, on the alluvial plains of Grave
Creek in Western Virginia, was in one of the types of this ancient
character. This type of the alphabet may be called AONIC[6]--a term
derived from the aboriginal vocabulary. I visited the locality in
1843--carefully examined the facts, and having satisfied myself of the
authenticity of the discovery, took duplicate copies of the inscription
in wax, and transmitted them to Europe. The inscription consists of
twenty-three letters, together with a pictorial device, apparently a
man's head on a pike. It is made on a small hard stone, of an oval
shape, and was found in a vault along with human bones, sea shells, and
various ornaments of a rude age. Professor Charles Rafn, of Copenhagen,
deems the character Celtiberic. I have recently received a memoir from
M. Jomard, at Paris, (the sole survivor of Bonaparte's scientific corps
in Egypt,) who considers it as of Lybian origin, and compares it with
an inscription found on the African shores of the Mediterranean at
Dugga. It relieves, to some extent, the discrepancy existing between
these two learned men to remark that the Dugga inscription consists of
two parts, one of which is pronounced Celtiberic by Hamaker, and that
the generic character of the strokes in this alphabet are preserved to
some extent even in the true Libyan. Since the receipt of Mr. Rafn's
paper, the number of characters on the Grave Creek stone which are
identical with the Celtiberic, as published in the first volume of the
Transactions of the American Ethnological Society, has been shown to be
fifteen, leaving but eight to be accounted for. By comparison, ten of
our Aonic characters of Grave Creek correspond with the Phoenician;
four with the ancient Greek; four with the Etruscan; six with the
ancient Gallic; seven with the old Erse; five with the Runic proper,
and thirteen with the Druidical, or old British, as it existed before
the invasion of Julius Cæsar. The latter are, however, almost
identical, so far as the comparison goes, with the Celtiberic. Six of
the characters, which are several times repeated, however, exist in the
right hand portion of the Lybian inscription at Dugga, but the
introduction, in other parts of the monumental text, of the Arabic
element of notation by curved lines, tends to lessen the probability of
the Lybian origin of our western inscription, while it adds additional
force to the suggestions of Mr. Rafn. It is also to be noticed that M.
Jomard employed an inaccurate copy of the inscription which was
furnished him some years ago by Mr. Vail.

      [6] Vide Notes on the Iroquois.

This comprehends the European branch of the obscure period of our early
continental history, and includes all the nations known to have put in
claims to share, or to anticipate, the glory of the discovery of the
continent by Columbus.

The discovery of the continent, was, indeed, a geographical wonder. It
was made contrary to the predictions of the times. Such a discovery was
not only opposed by popular opinion; but Columbus himself expected no
such thing. He sought only a new passage to the East Indies. He
insisted, with a noble constancy, that he should find land in sailing
west. But he did not expect to find, as if by the power of necromancy,
that a vast continent should rise up before his eyes. And it is
altogether questionable, whether the great navigator did not die
without a true knowledge of this fact. It will be recollected that it
was not until six years after his death, which happened in 1506, that
Balboa first discovered the Pacific from the heights of Panama, and
thus truly revealed the position of the Continent.

Sages and Philosophers do not admire results which have fallen out
contrary to their expressed views; but, in this case, the discovery
proved so astounding that all Europe joined in extolling, what all
Europe had a little before, disbelieved. A continent stretching little
under 10,000 miles, from south to north, with a maximum breath of 2000
miles, between sea and sea, rivers, such as the La Plata and the
Amazon--mountains like that of the Andes, whose highest peak rises
20,280 feet above the sea--Volcanoes, which cast their fires over
plains of interminable extent--tropical fruits of every kind--mines of
gold and silver the richest the world had ever known--these were some
of the features that America brought to light, while it added one-third
to the known area, and more than one-third to the commercial resources
of the world.

But while men gazed at its lofty mountains, and geological
magnificence, the ancient race of men, who were found here, constituted
by far the most curious and thought-inspiring problem. Volcanoes and
vast plains and mountains were elements in the geography of the old
world, and their occurrence here, soon assimilated their discovery to
other features of the kind. But the red man continued to furnish a
theme for speculation and inquiry, which time has not satisfied.
Columbus, supposing himself to have found, what he had sailed for, and
judging from physical characteristics alone, called them _Indians_.
Usage has perpetuated the term. But if, by the term, it is designed to
consider them as of that part of India, which is filled with the Hindoo
race, there is but little resemblance beyond mere physical traits. Of
the leading idea of the multiform incarnations of the terrible, and
degraded Hindoo deities--of the burning of widows at the funereal
pile--of infanticide--of the gross idolatry rendered to images, like
those of Vishnoo and Juggernaut, there is nothing. The degraded forms
of superstition and human vice which are practised on the Ganges and
the Burrampooter, are unknown on the Mississippi and the Missouri. Nor
have we found, so far as I am aware, a single word in the American
languages, which exists in the Hindostanee.

The philosophers and ecclesiastics of the sixteenth century, who
discussed the subject of the origin of the American Tribes, have left
scarcely a portion of the globe untouched by their researches, or from
which, they have not attempted, by some analogies, to deduce them.
Generalization, as soon as Columbus returned from his first voyage,
took an unlimited latitude; and theories were advanced with a degree of
confidence, which was, in some measure, proportioned to the remoteness
of the position of the writers, from both the stock of people found,
and those of nations with whom they were sought to be compared.
Scholars ransacked the archives of European archæology. They found some
allusions in the Greek drama, to ancient discoveries beyond the pillars
of Hercules. They speculated on the story of Atlantis, and the
Fortunate Islands. They drew parallels between the hunter and corn
planting tribes of America, and the lost ten tribes of Israel, who were
graziers. They located ancient Ophir, where of all places it had
certainly never been, namely, in America. They were satisfied with
general resemblances in manners and customs, which mark uncivilized
nations, in distant parts of the world, who assimilate, in some traits,
from mere parity of circumstances, but between whom there are in
reality, no direct affinities of blood and lineage. And they left the
question, to all practical and satisfactory ends, precisely where they
found it. It was still to be answered, WHO ARE THE INDIANS?

The present age is, in many respects, better prepared to undertake the
examination of the question. The time which has passed away since
Columbus dropped anchor at the island of Guanahani, has rendered
distant nations on the globe far better acquainted with each other.
This has, indeed, been the most remarkable period for its influence on
all the true elements of civilization, which the world has ever known.
The advance of general knowledge, the comity of national intercourse,
and the policy and friendship of nations, has certainly never before
reached its present state. China is no longer a sealed nation. British
arms have carried the influence of arts and letters, through Hindostan,
Abyssinia, Persia, and the valley of the Euphrates, have been visited
and explored. The deserts of the Holy Land have been trod by learned
men of Europe and America. The mouth of the Niger and the sources of
the Nile, are revealed. Even Arabia, the land where Abraham and his
descendants once trod, has sent an embassy of peace, to a government
18,000 miles distant, which has not had a national existence over
seventy years. Not only the rulers of Arabia and America have been thus
brought into the bonds of intercourse; but the age has exchanged the
arts, the science and the philosophy of the utmost parts of the earth.
Scientific discovery has reached its highest acme. The sites of many
ancient and long unknown, though not forgotten cities, are recovered.
Monuments and ruins have been disinterred in the ancient seats of human
power, in the oriental world, and inscriptions deciphered, which give
vitality to ancient history. Ethnology has arisen to hold up the light
of her resplendent lamp, amid these ruins, to guide the footsteps of
letters, science and piety.

To these evidences of the inquisitive energy of the age, it has added
new and important means of study and investigation. The principles of
interpretation which originated in the study of Egyptian monuments,
have guided inquiries in other quarters of the globe, and the discovery
of a key to the hieroglyphics of the Nile has thus reflected light on
the progress of monumental researches throughout the world. The science
of philology, so important in considering the affinities of nations,
has been almost wholly created within fifty years. Franklin lived and
died without a knowledge of it. Astronomy has been employed to some
extent to detect the chronology of architectural ruins, and even the
antique history of America has been illustrated by the record of an
eclipse among the ancient Mexican picture-writings.[7] Geology, in her
labors to determine the character of the exhumed bones and shells of
extinct classes of the animal creation of former eras, has not failed
to impart the most important knowledge of the physical history of the
planet we occupy. Electricity and magnetism have also enlarged their
boundaries. Chemistry is in the process of fulfilling the highest
expectations. All these sources of knowledge have been poured into the
lap of geography and ethnography, and given us a far better and truer
knowledge of the character, resources, and position of the nations of
the world. And after making every allowance for the literary
complacency of the age, we are yet unable to point to a prior epoch of
the world when man had so fully recovered his position in the scale of
civilization, and in the knowledge of the various phenomena in science,
letters and arts, on which his true advance depends.

      [7] Vide Gallatin's paper--Trans. Am. Eth. Society, vol. I.

With these evidences of intellectual progress and the increased power
of modern inquiry, there are redoubled incentives to investigate the
obscure period of American history. It has been said, prematurely, in
the arrogance of European criticism, that America has "no fallen
columns" to examine--"no inscriptions to decypher." We answer the
assertion by pointing to the enigmatical walls of Palenque and Chi Chen
Itza, and to the polished ruins of Cuzco, and the valley of Anahuac.
Researches in this field of observation have just commenced. Bigotry
and lust of conquest, led the early Spanish adventurers to sweep as
with the besom of destruction every object and monument of art which
stood in their way. Cortez razed the walls of ancient Mexico to the
ground as he entered it, and his zealous followers committed to the
flames whatever was light and combustible. This spirit marked the
entire conquest which was carried on under the triple mania of
religious bigotry, the lust of gold, and the unchastened spirit of
national robbery. We have to glean for facts among that which is left.
It is still an interesting field, but it has been hedged up since the
conquest, by the jealous spirit and narrow policy of by far the most
gloomy and non-progressive nation of Europe. Spanish chivalry has been
extolled to the skies, but it has ever been the chivalry of the dark
ages. She has fought for the antiquity of opinion, while she has
guarded the avenue to facts. There are immense districts of Central and
South America, which are yet a perfect terra incognita to the traveller
and the antiquarian.

Entire tribes and nations in the gloomy ranges of the Andes and the
Cordilleras have never submitted to the Spanish yoke, and still enjoy
their original customs and institutions. So far as modern explorations
have been made, the results are, in a high degree, auspicious. Mr.
Stephens has opened vistas in our antiquarian history by his two
exploratory journies, which tend to show how little we yet know of the
ancient epochs of the country, and the field of inquiry is about to be
occupied at various points under the highest advantages. Some of the
figures and devices on the antique walls and temples of equinoctial
America, appear to contain information for a future Young or
Champollion to reveal. Time and scrutiny will do much to lift the veil
of mystery from these ancient ruins, and to form and regulate sound
opinion upon the ancient inhabitants of that quarter, and their state
of arts. There can be no doubt that evidences exist in buried
antiquities which will tend to connect the arts and religion, mythology
and astronomy of the eastern and western hemispheres--to unravel the
difficulties in the way of comparative philology, and to reconstruct
and connect the links in the broken chain of national affiliation.

Even in our less attractive latitudes and longitudes, a more auspicious
and healthy tone has been given to the spirit of investigation. A voice
from one of our western mounds (which has been alluded to) promises to
restore the reading of an inscription in one of the earliest alphabets
of the world. Sculptures have recently been disclosed in some of the
minor mounds of the West, which are executed in a polished style of
art, and strongly connect the Mexican and American tribes. The figures
of animals and birds, taken from some barrows in the Scioto valley, are
executed in a manner quite equal to anything of the kind found in
Mexico or Peru.

Mythological evidence is also assuming more distinctive grounds. An
imitative mound of a gigantic serpent swallowing an egg, has been
discovered in one of the forest counties of Ohio, while I have been
engaged in penning these remarks. The discovery of this curious
structure, which is coiled for the distance of a quarter of a mile
around a hill, transfers to our soil a striking and characteristic
portion of oriental mythology. Scarcely a season passes, indeed, which
does not add, by the extension of our settlements, or the direct agency
of exploration, to the number of monumental evidences of antique

But were these, indeed, wanting--were there no mounds or pyramids of
sepulture or sacrifice--no remains of art--no inscriptive testimonies
to speak of by-gone centuries--we have before us one of the most
interesting of all monumental proofs in the lost and enigmatical race,
who yet rove the boundless forests of the West and South. Whether there
be evidences to separate the eras and nations of the most ancient
inhabitants from those whose descendants yet remain, is one of the very
points at issue. If the descendants of the mound and temple builders
yet exist, the traditions of the era have passed from them in the
process of their declension. But whoever the builders were, and whether
their blood still flows in the existing race or not, they clung, like
this race, so firmly to their ancient mythology and religion as to
impress it indelibly on the features of their architecture, and in
almost every work or labor which they attempted.

Viewed in every age, the existing tribes have exhibited such a fixity
and peculiarity of character, as to have rendered them at once a
paradox and a bye-word. The Turk has not been more inflexible; nor the
Jew shown more individuality. We have hardly begun systematically to
examine this subject. If the ancient builders were nomads--mere hunters
of the bear, the deer, and the bison, who were too happy in the
Parthian attainments of the bow and arrow to need towns and
temples--certainly no such development arose in these more northern
latitudes. And yet, if we make some peculiar exceptions, it appears
difficult to suppose that the entire race, viewed in its generic and
ethnological aspect, did not present a unity. While the very amplitude
of the continent, and the variety of its soil, climate and productions,
would lead, inevitably, to divisions and sub-divisions of tribes and
languages, there are characteristics so deeply seated in their
organization and habits, physical and mental, as to mark them as a
peculiar family of the Red Type of man. Adopting this idea of unity as
a basis of study, there are, at least, fewer obstacles in grouping the
phenomena from which our deductions are to be drawn. The proof of
negation is not the strongest proof, but it is something to assert that
they are neither of Japhetic or Hamitic origin. In the traditions of
one of the most celebrated North American tribes, namely, the Iroquois,
the continent or "island," as it is termed, is called Aonio,[8] and we
may hence denominate the race Aonic, and the individuals Aonites. If we
do not advance by this term in the origin of the people, we at least
advance in the precision of discussion.

      [8] Notes on the Iroquois.

But where shall we find a basis, on which to rest their Chronology?
Must we run back to the epoch of the original dispersion of man, or can
we rest at a subsequent point? Has the era of christianity any definite
relation to their migration? Was the migration designed, or accidental?
Did it consist of one tribe, or twenty tribes? Did it happen at one
epoch, or many epochs? Have they wandered here eighteen centuries, or
double that period? These are some of the inquiries that naturally

The first great question to be decided in the history of the Red Race,
is, whether they were, as they have been vaguely called, the
_aborigines_, or were preceded, on the continent, by other races? The
second, whether the type of civilization, of which we behold evidences
in Mexico, Yucatan and South America, was an _indigenous development_
of energies latent in the human mind, or derived its leading and
suggestive features from _foreign lands_? There is intermingled with
these inquiries, the scarcely less important one, whether or not, the
_antiquarian ruins of America_, denote an element or elements of
_European population_, in the later eras, whose fate became involved in
the hunter mass, and who may be supposed to have been completely
obliterated from the traditions of the existing tribes, prior to the
discovery by Columbus.

Indian tradition has little or nothing to offer on this head. Time and
barbarism have blotted out all. The entire sum of the traditions of all
the various races of Red men, on the continent, when sifted from the
mass of fabulous and incongruous matter by which it is accompanied, and
when there is any allusion to it at all, amounts to this: that their
ancestors came from the east; a few tribes, assert that they had come
by water.[9] The land from whence they set out, the time devoted to the
purposes of their long migration, and the actual period of their
landing, and all such questions, are indefinite. And we must
re-construct their chronology, in the best way possible, from a careful
system of patient historical and antiquarian induction. Exactitude it
cannot have, but it may reach plausibility. Granting to the
Scandinavian, the Cimbrian and the Italian periods of adventure, which
have been named, the fullest limits, in point of antiquity, which have
under any circumstances been claimed, we cannot carry even this species
of history beyond the year A. D. 1001; leaving 999 years to be
accounted for, to the commencement of the Christian era. The Aztec
empire which had reached such a point of magnificence when Mexico was
first entered by Cortez, in 1519, did not, according to the picture
writings and Mexican chronologists, date back farther than 1038, or by
another authority, 958. The Toltecs, who preceded them in the career of
empire, and whom together with the Chichimecs and their allies they
overthrew, do not, allowing them the most liberal latitude of authors,
extend their reign beyond A. D. 667. Prior to this, Indian chronology
makes mention of the Olmecs--a people who are described as having
mechanical arts, and to whom even the Toltecs ascribed the erection of
some of their most antique and magnificent monuments. According to
Fernando D'Alva, himself of Aztec lineage, the most ancient date
assigned to the entire group of Mexican dynasties is A. D. 299. There
are monuments in those benignant latitudes of perpetual summer,
exempted as they are from the disintegrating effects of frosts, which
corroborate such a chronology, and denote even a more ancient
population, who were builders, agriculturists and worshippers of the
sun. But we require a far longer period than any thus denoted, to
account for those changes and subdivisions which have been found in the
American languages.

      [9] Such are the traditions of the Aztecs and of the Athapascas.
      Nearly every Aonic tribe, on the contrary, affirm that their
      ancestors came out of the ground.

Language is itself so irrefragable a testimony of the mental affinities
of nations, and so slow in the periods of its mutations, that it offers
one of the most important means for studying the history of the people.
Grammars and vocabularies are required of all the tribes, whose history
and relations we seek to fathom, before we can successfully compare
them with each other, and with foreign languages. It is a study of high
interest, from the diversity and curious principles of the dialects.
There is a general agreement in the principles of Indian utterance,
while their vocabularies exhibit wide variances. Some of the concords
required, are anomalous to the occidental grammars, while there is a
manifest general resemblance to these ancient plans of thought. The
most curious features consist in the personal forms of the verbs, the
constant provision for limiting the action to specific objects, the
submergence of gender in many cases into two great organic and
inorganic classes of nature, marked by vitality or inertia, and the
extraordinary power of syllabical combination, by which Indian
lexicography is rendered so graphic and descriptive in the bestowal of
names. They are all, or nearly all, transpositive and polysynthetic;
yet although now found in a very concrete form, this appears to have
been not their original form, but rather the result of the progress of
syllabical accretion, from a few limited roots and particles, which are
yet when dissected found to be monosyllabic. That they have
incorporated some of the Hebrew pronouns, and while like this language,
wanting the auxiliary verb _to be_, have preserved its solemn causative
verb, for existence, are among the points of the philology to be
explained. But I have not time to pursue this subject. Even these
notices are made at the sacrifice of other and perhaps more generally
interesting traits of their antiquity.

The _Astronomy_ of the American tribes, has been thought to merit
attention, in any attempts to compare them with foreign nations. The
evidences of the attainments of the ancient Mexicans in this science,
as well as the facts of their general history, chronology and
languages, have been examined by the venerable archæologist and
ex-statesman, who presides over this society, in a critical
dissertation, published by the American Ethnological Society, which is
the ablest paper of the age. The results of Mr. Gallatin's labors, and
his reading of the ancient scrolls of Mexican picture writing,
preserved in the folios of Lord Kingsborough, while they limit the
amount of precise historical information in these unique records to
very narrow grounds, yet denote a degree of system and exactitude, both
in their chronology and astronomy, which are very remarkable.

The simple astronomy of our Aonic tribes of the north, gave them a
lunar year, consisting of twelve moons. They consequently had a year of
about three hundred and sixty days. As they had no names for days, no
week and no subperiods of a moon, but noticed and relied simply on the
moon's phases, they did not become acquainted with the necessity of
intercalations for the true length of the year. The Aztecs of Mexico,
on the contrary, had a solar year, and had made an extraordinary
advance in computing the true time. Their year consisted of eighteen
months, of twenty days each, a perfectly arbitrary system. This
division would give but three hundred and sixty days to the year. The
remaining five were called _empty_ or superfluous days, and were added
to the last month of the eighteen. A tropical year is, however, about
six hours longer than three hundred and sixty-five days, and by
throwing away six hours annually, there would be an entire day lost
every four years. The Mexican astronomers were well aware of this fact;
but instead of supplying the deficiency every fourth year as we do,
they disregarded it entirely, till a whole cycle consisting of
fifty-two years was completed, and then they intercalated thirteen
days, to make up the time and complete their cycle. In this way they
came to the same result as the Egyptians, but by a different process,
since the Egyptian calendar was founded on a computation of twelve
lunar months of thirty days each. It was precisely the same in the old
Persian calendar, which consisted of a year of three hundred and sixty
days, made up of twelve months of thirty days each.

The Aztecs divided their cycle of fifty two years, into four periods of
thirteen years; called TLALPILLI, and their month of twenty days, into
four sub-periods, or weeks, of five days. The cycle was called
XIUHMOLPILLI, which signifies, "the tying up of years." Each day of the
month had a separate _name_, derived from some animate, or inanimate
object, as _Tochtli_, a rabbit, _Calli_, a house, _Atl_, water,
_Tecpatl_, Silex, _Xochitl_, a flower, _Cohuatl_, a serpent. The fifth
day, was a fair or market day. The names of the days were represented
by hieroglyphic figures of the objects described. The divisions were
perfect and regular, and enabled them to denote, in their scrolls of
picture writing, the chronology of the month, and of the Tlalpilli, or
period of thirteen years.[10]

      [10] As to the market day or week of five days, Sir Wm. Jones and
      Sir Stamford Raffles, tell us that the same period, existed, for
      the same purpose, in India. In the symbols for days, we find four
      to correspond exactly with the zodiacal signs of India, eight
      with those of Thibet, six with those of Siam and Japan, and
      others with those of the Chinese and Moguls.

The scheme itself denotes, not only a very certain mode of keeping the
record of time, but a very exact knowledge of the tropical year. It is
now known that the length of the year is precisely three hundred and
sixty five days, five hours, forty eight minutes, and forty eight
seconds; and it is perfectly well ascertained, that the Aztecs computed
its length, at the period of their highest advance, at three hundred
and sixty five days, five hours, forty six minutes, and nine seconds,
differing only two minutes and thirty nine seconds from our own
computation.[11] There is evidence, indeed, that the ancient
inhabitants of this continent, had more science, than is generally
conceded. If we are to credit writers, the Aztecs understood the true
causes of eclipses, as well as we do. Diagrams exist, in their
pictorial records, in which the earth is represented as projecting its
disc upon the moon--thus indicating, clearly, a true knowledge of this
phenomenon. Mr. Gallatin remarks that the Indian astronomical system,
as developed in Mexico, is not one of _indigenous origin_, but that
they had, manifestly, received it, at least their calendar, from a
foreign source. Its results could not have been attained without long
and patient observations. Some of its methods of combination, in the
double use of names and figures, in their cycles, are thought to denote
an ancient primitive system of oriental astronomy, reaching back to the
earliest times. Here, then, we have one probable fact to serve as the
nucleus of antiquarian testimony. We begin it abroad.

      [11] With respect to intercalations, various periods have been
      taken by ancient nations. And while we take the shortest possible
      one, of four years; and the Aztecs took fifty two, the Chinese
      took sixty, and the Persians one hundred and twenty.

The _architecture_ of the ancient inhabitants of Mexico and Peru, has
been illustrated, within a few years, by several elaborate works; and
the subject may be deemed to have been brought, by these works, within
the scope of study and comparison. There are two features in this
unique order of architecture, which appear to denote great antiquity in
the principles developed, namely, the arch and the pyramid. These
nations appear to have had the use of squares and parallelograms, in
their geometry, without circles, or parabolic lines. The only form of
the arch observed, is that called the cyclopean arch, which is made by
one course of stones overlapping another, till the two walls meet, and
a flat stone covers the space. This is the earliest type of the arch
known among mankind, and is believed to be more ancient than the
foundation of any city in Europe.

The pyramid, as developed in the temple of the sun at Tezcuco, the
Mexican teocalli, and the Aonic mounds of North America, compose a form
of architecture equally ancient; which can be traced back over the
plains of Asia, to the period of the original dispersion of mankind.
The temple of Belus, was but a vast pyramid, raised for the worship of
Bel. Originating in the Hamitic tribes, in the alluvial vallies and
flat-lands of Asia Minor, a perfect infatuation, on the subject,
appears to have possessed the early oriental nations, and they carried
the idea into the valley of the Nile, and, indeed, wherever they went.
It appeared to be the substitute of idolatrous nations, on alluvial
lands, for an isolated hill, or promontory. It was at such points that
Baal and Bel were worshipped, and hence the severe injunctions of the
sacred volume, on the worship established in the oriental world "on
high places." Such was the position of the pyramids in the vallies of
the Euphrates and the Nile, and the idea appears to have reached
America without any deviation whatever in its relative position, or its
general design. It was every were, throughout America, as we find it,
in the vallies of Mexico and the Mississippi, erected in rich and level
vallies, or plains, and dedicated to idolatrous worship.

The mound builders of North America, north of the tropical latitudes,
appear like bad copyists of a sublime original. They retained the idea
of the oriental pyramid, but being no mechanics constructed piles of
earth to answer the ancient purpose, both of worship and interment. Our
largest structures of this kind, are the mound of Grave Creek in
Western Virginia, containing about three millions of cubic feet, and
the great group of the Monks of _La Trappe_ in Illinois, estimated at
seven millions of cubic feet.[12] Those of Saint Louis, mount Joliet,
and the Blue mounds respectively are now known to be of _geological_

      [12] The central mound of this group has been cut through since
      the date of my paper before the Ethnological Society, and proved
      to be _artificial_.

But the Mexican and South American tribes built more boldly, and have
left several specimens of the pyramids, which deserve to be mentioned,
as well from the evidences they afford of mechanical skill, as from
their magnificent proportions, and their Nilotic power of endurance.
The pyramid of Cholula, in the valley of Mexico, exists in three vast
steps, retreating as they ascend, the highest of which was crowned with
a temple, whose base was one hundred and seventy-seven feet above the
plain. This is nine feet higher than that of Myrcerinus, the third of
the great group of Ghiza on the Nile; but its base of one thousand four
hundred and twenty-three feet, exceeds that of any edifice of the kind
found by travellers in the old world, and is double that of Cheops. To
realize a clear idea of its magnitude, we may imagine a solid structure
of earth, bricks and stone, which would fill the Washington parade
ground, squared by its east and west lines, and rising seventy-five
feet above the turrets of the New York University.

The pyramids of the empire of the Incas are not less remarkable. There
are at Saint Juan Teotihuacan, near lake Tezcuco, in the Mexican
valley, two very large antique pyramids, which were consecrated by the
ancient inhabitants to the Sun and Moon. The largest, called Tonatiuh
Ytzalqual, or the House of the Sun, has a base of two hundred and eight
metres, or six hundred and eighty-two English feet in length, and
fifty-five metres or one hundred and eighty feet perpendicular
elevation; being three feet higher than the great pyramid of Cholula.
The other, called Meztu Ytzaqual, or House of the Moon, is thirty-six
feet lower, and has a lesser base. These monuments, according to the
first accounts, were erected by the most ancient tribes, and were the
models of the Aztec Teocalli. The faces of these pyramids are within
fifty-two seconds, exactly north and south and east and west. Their
interior consists of massive clay and stone. This solid nucleus is
covered by a kind of porous amygdaloid, called tetzontli. They are
ascended by steps of hewn stone to their pinnacles, where tradition
affirms, there were anciently statues covered with thin lamina of gold.
And it was on these sublime heights, with the clear tropical skies of
Mexico above them, that the Toltec magi lit the sacred fire upon their
altars, offered up incense, and chanted hymns.

One fact in connexion with these ancient structures is remarkable, on
account of its illustrative character of the use of our small mounds.
Around the base of these pyramids, there were found numerous smaller
pyramids, or cones of scarcely nine or ten metres--twenty-nine to
thirty feet elevation, which were dedicated to the STARS. These minor
elevations, were generally arranged at right angles. They furnished
also places of sepulture for their distinguished chiefs, and hence the
avenue leading through them, was called Micoatl, or Road of the Dead.
We have in this arrangement a hint of the object of the numerous small
mounds, which generally surround the large mounds in the Mississippi
valley--as may be witnessed in the remarkable group of La Trappe, in
Illinois. A similar arrangement, indeed, prevails in the smaller series
of the leading mound groups west of the Alleghanies. They may be called
Star-mounds. If this theory be correct, we have not only a satisfactory
explanation of the object of the smaller groups, which has heretofore
puzzled inquirers; but the presence of such groups may be taken as an
evidence of the wide spread worship of the Sun, at an early period in
these latitudes.

Sun-worship existed extensively in North America as well as South.
There is reason to believe that the ancestors of all the principal
existing tribes in America, worshipped an ETERNAL FIRE. Both from their
records and traditions, as well as their existing monuments, this
deduction is irresistible. Not only the Olmecs and Toltecs, who built
the temples of the sun and moon, near the lake of Tezcuco--not only the
Auricaneans, who obeyed the voice of the First Inca, in erecting the
temple of the Sun at the foot of the Andes; but the Aztecs, even at the
later and more corrupted period of their rites, adhered strongly to
this fundamental rite. It is to be traced from the tropical latitudes
into the Mississippi valley, where the earth-mound it is apprehended,
rudely supplied the place of its more gorgeous, southern prototype.
When they had raised the pile of earth as high as their means and skill
dictated, facts denote that they erected temples and altars at its
apex. On these altars, tradition tells us, they burned the tobacco
plant, which maintains its sacred character unimpaired to the present
day. From the traditions which are yet extant in some of the tribes,
they regarded the sun as the symbol of _Divine Intelligence_. They paid
him no human sacrifices, but offered simply incense, and dances and
songs. They had an order of priesthood, resembling the ancient magi,
who possessed the highest influence and governed the destinies of the
tribes. It is past all doubt that Manco Capac, was himself one of these
magi: and it is equally apparent, that the order exists at this day,
although shorn of much of its ancient, external splendor, in the solemn
_metais_, and sacrificial _jossakeeds_, who sway the simple multitudes
in the North American forests. Among these tribes, the graphic
_Ke-ke-win_, which depicts the Sun, stands on their pictorial rolls, as
the symbol of the Great Spirit; and no important rite or ceremony is
undertaken without an offering of tobacco. This weed is lit with the
sacred element, generated anew on each occasion, from percussion. To
light and to put out this fire, is the symbolic language for the
opening and closing of every important civil or religious public
transaction, and it is the most sacred rite known to them. It is never
done without an appeal, which has the characteristics of prayer, to the
Great Spirit. To find in America, a system of worship which existed in
Mesopotamia, in the era of the patriarch Job, one thousand five hundred
and fifty years before the advent of Christ, is certainly remarkable,
and is suggestive both of the antiquity and origin of the tribes.

Geology is not without its testimony in this connexion. The antiquity
of human occupancy in the Mississippi valley is so extreme, that it
appears to mingle its evidences with some of its more recent geological
phenomena. The gradual disintegration and replacement of strata in that
quarter of the country, involve facts which are quite in accordance
with evidences of ancient eras drawn from other sources. It is some
seven and twenty years since the earliest evidences of this kind
arrested my attention. I was then descending the valley of the UNICAU
or White river, in the present area of Arkansas. This is one of that
series of large streams which descends the great slope or
_Wassershied_, extending from the foot of the Rocky Mountains into the
lower Mississippi. These streams have carried down for ages the
loosened materials of the elevated and mountainous parts of that great
range into the delta of the Mississippi, filling up immense ancient
inlets and seas, and pushing its estuary into the Mexican gulf. They
are still to be regarded as the vast geological laboratory in which so
large a part of the plains, islands and shores of that great off-drain
of the continent have been prepared. The evidences referred to in the
descent of the Unicau, consisted of antique, coarse pottery, scoria and
ashes, together with a metallic alloy of a whitish hue, but capable of
being cut partially with a knife. There were also deposites of bones,
but so decayed and fragmentary as to make it impossible to determine
their specific character. All these were, geologically, beneath the
various strata of sand, loam and vegetable mould, supporting the heavy
primitive forest of that valley. At Little Rock, in the valley of the
Arkansas, vestiges of art have recently been found in similar beds of
denudation, at considerable depths below the surface of the wooded
plains. They consisted of a subterraneous furnace, together with broken
clay kettles. In other portions of this wide slope of territory, a
species of antique bricks have been disinterred.[13] It is in this
general area, and in strata of a similar age, that gigantic bones,
tusks and teeth of the mastodon, and other extinct quadrupeds, have
been so profusely found within a few years, particularly in the Osage

      [13] Arkansas paper.

But the greatest scene of superficial disturbance of post-human
occupancy, appears in the great alluvial angle of territory which lies
between the Mississippi and Ohio, extending to their junction. This
area constitutes the grand prairie section of lower Illinois. The Big
Bone Lick of the Ohio, the original seat of the discovery of the bones
of the megalonyx and mastodon, announced by Mr. Jefferson to the
philosophers of Europe, connects itself with this element of
continental disturbance. Its western limits are cut through by the
Mississippi, which washes precipitous cliffs of rock, between a
promontory or natural pyramid of limestone, standing in its bed called
Grand Tower, and the city of St. Louis, extending even to a point
opposite the junction of the Missouri. Directly opposite these
secondary cliffs, on the Illinois shore, extends transversely for one
hundred miles, the noted alluvial tract called the American bottom.
This tract discloses, at great depths, buried trunks of trees,
fresh-water shells, animal bones and various wrecks of pre-existing
orders of the animal and vegetable creation. On the banks of the Sabine
river, which flows into the Ohio, there was found, some few years ago,
in the progress of excavations made for salt water, coarse clay kettles
of from eight to ten gallons capacity, and fragments of earthenware,
imbedded at the depth of eighty feet. The limestone rocks of the
Missouri coast, above noticed, which form the western verge of this
antique lacustrine sea, have produced some curious organic foot-tracks
of animals and other remains; and the faces of these cliffs exhibit
deep and well marked water lines, as if they had been acted on by a
vast body of water, standing for long and fixed periods, at a high
level, and subject to be acted on by winds and tempests. Indeed, it
requires but little examination of the various phenomena, offered at
this central point of the Mississippi valley, to suppose that the
southern boundary of this ancient oceanic-lake, ran in the direction of
the Grand Tower and Cave in rock groups, and that an arm of the sea or
gulf of Mexico, must have extended to the indicated foot of this
ancient lacustrine barrier. At this point, there appear evidences also
of the existence of mighty ancient cataracts. The topic is one which
has impressed me as being well entitled to investigation, and is
hastily introduced here among the branches of inquiry bearing on my
subject. But it cannot be dwelt upon, although it is connected with an
interesting class of kindred phenomena, in other parts of the west.

I have already occupied the time, which I had prescribed to myself in
these remarks. It has been impossible to consider many topics, upon
which a true understanding of the antique period of our history
depends. But I cannot close them, without a brief allusion to the
leading traits and history of the Red Race, whose former advance in the
arts, and whose semi-civilization in the equinoctial latitudes of the
continent, we have been contemplating.

That these tribes are a people of great antiquity, far greater than has
been assigned to them, is denoted by the considerations already
mentioned. Their languages, their astronomy, their architecture and
their very ancient religion and mythology, prove this. But a people who
live without letters, must expect their history to perish with them.
Tradition soon degenerates into fable, and fable has filled the oldest
histories of the world, with childish incongruities and recitals of
gross immoralities. In this respect, the Indian race have evinced less
imagination than the Greeks and Romans, who have filled the world with
their lewd philosophy of genealogy, but their myths are quite as
rational and often better founded than those of the latter. To restore
their history from the rubbish of their traditions, is a hopeless task.
We must rely on other data, the nature of which has been mentioned. To
seek among ruins, to decypher hieroglyphics, to unravel myths, to study
ancient systems of worship and astronomy, and to investigate
vocabularies and theories of language, are the chief methods before us;
and these call for the perseverance of Sysiphus and the clear inductive
powers of Bacon. Who shall touch the scattered bones of aboriginal
history with the spear of truth, and cause the skeleton of their
ancient society to arise and live? We may never see this; but we may
hold out incentives to the future scholar, to labor in this department.

Of their origin, it is yet premature, on the basis of ethnology, to
decide. There is no evidence--not a particle, that the tribes came to
the continent after the opening of the Christian era. Their religion
bears far more the characteristics of Zoroaster, than of Christ. It has
also much more that assimilates it to the land of Chaldea, than to the
early days of the land of Palestine. The Cyclopean arch, and the form
of the pyramid, point back to very ancient periods. Their language is
constructed on a very antique plan of thought. Their symbolic system of
picture writing is positively the oldest and first form of recording
ideas the world ever knew. The worship of the sun is the earliest form
of human idolatry. Their calendar and system of astronomy reveal traits
common to that of China, Persia, or Hindostan. Mr. Gallatin, from the
consideration of the languages alone, is inclined to think that they
might have reached the continent within five hundred years after the
original dispersion. That they are of the Shemitic stock, cannot be
questioned. The only point to be settled, indeed, appears to be, from
what branch of that very widely dispersed, and intermingled race of
idolaters and warriors they broke loose, and how, and in what manner,
and during what era, or eras, they found their way to these shores?

But, however these questions may be decided, this is certain, that
civilization, government and arts began to develope themselves first in
the tropical regions of Mexico and Central America. Mexico itself, in
the process of time, became to the ancient Indian tribes, the Rome of
America. Like its proud prototype in Europe, it was invaded by one
barbaric tribe after another, to riot and plunder, but who, in the end,
adopted the type of civilization, which they came to destroy. Such was
the origin of the Toltecs and the Aztecs, whom Cortez conquered.

When we turn our view from this ancient centre of Indian power, to the
latitudes of the American Republic, we find the territory covered, at
the opening of the sixteenth century, with numerous tribes, of divers
languages, existing in the mere hunter state, or at most, with some
habits of horticulture superadded. They had neither cattle nor arts.
They were bowmen and spearmen--roving and predatory, with very little,
if any thing, in their traditions, to link them to these prior central
families of men, but with nearly every thing in their physical and
intellectual type, to favor such a generic affiliation. They erected
groups of mounds, to sacrifice to the sun, moon and stars. They were,
originally, fire-worshippers. They spoke ONE general class of
transpositive languages. They had implements of copper, as well as of
silex, and porphyries. They made cooking vessels of tempered clay. They
carved very beautiful and perfect models of birds and quadrupeds, out
of stone, as we see in some recently opened mounds. They cultivated the
most important of all the ancient Mexican grains, the zea mays. They
raised the tobacco plant, to be offered, to their Gods, as
frankincense. They used the Aztec drum in their religious ceremonies
and war dances. They employed the very ancient Asiatic art of recording
ideas, by means of representative devices. They believed in the
oriental doctrines of transformation, and the power of necromancy.
Their oral fictions on this head, are so replete with fancy, that they
might give scope to the lyre of some future western Ovid. They held,
with Pythagoras, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. They
believed, indeed, in duplicate souls. They believed with Zoroaster, in
the two great creative and antagonistical principles of Ormusd and
Ahriman, and they had THEN, and have STILL, an influential and powerful
order of priests, who uphold the principles of a sacred fire.

To these principles, they appeal _now_, as they did in the days of the
discovery. They believe in the sacred character of Fire, and regard it
as the mysterious element of the Universe, which typifies the Divinity.
They believe, and practice strictly, with the descendants of Abraham,
the law of separation, but not the practice of circumcision. With the
ancient Phoenicians, they attribute extraordinary powers, to the wisdom
and subtlety of the Serpent, and this reptile holds a high place in
their mythology. They regard the Tortoise, as the original increment,
and medium of the creation of the Earth, and view the Bear and the Wolf
as enchanted heroes of supernatural energies. And they have adopted the
devices of these three animals as the general Totemic types and bond of
their separation into clans. They are as observant as any of the
orientalists were, of the flight of birds. They draw, with the ancient
Chaldeans, prognostications from the clouds. They preserve the simple
music of the Arcadian pipe, which is dedicated to love. They people
their woods and mountains, and romantic water-falls, with various
classes of wood and water nymphs, fairies and genii. They had
anticipated the author of the "Rape of the Lock" in the creation of a
class of personal gnomes, who nimbly dance over the lineaments of the
human frame. They have a class of seers and prophets, who mutter from
the ground, the decisions of fate and Providence. They believe in the
idea of ghosts, witchcraft, and vampires. They place the utmost
reliance on dreams and night visions. A dream and a revelation, are
synonymous. Councils are called, and battles are fought on the
prognostications of a dream. They are astrologers and star-gazers, and
draw no small part of their mythology from the skies. They fast to
obtain the favor of the Deity, and they feast, at the return of the
first fruits. They have concentrated the wisdom and fancy of their
forefathers and sages, in allegories and fables. With the Arabs, they
are gifted in the relation of fictitious domestic tales, in which
necromancy and genii, constitute the machinery of thought. With the
ancient Mesopotamians, Persians and Copts, they practice the old art of
ideographic, or picture writing. They are excellent local geographers,
and practical naturalists. There is not an animal, fish, insect or
reptile in America, whose character and habitudes they do not
accurately and practically know. They believe the earth to be a plain,
with four corners, and the sky a hemisphere of material substance-like
brass, or metal, through which the planets shine, and around which the
sun and moon revolve. Over all, they install the power of an original
Deity, who is called the Great Spirit, who is worshipped by fire, who
is invoked by prayer, and who is regarded, from the cliffs of the
Monadnock,[14] to the waters of the Nebraska,[15] as omnipotent,
immaterial, and omnipresent.

      [14] A mountain in New Hampshire, seen from the sea.

      [15] The Indian name of the river La Plate.

That this race has dwelt on the continent long centuries before the
Christian era, all facts testify. If they are not older as a people,
than most of the present nations on the Asiatic shores of the Indian
ocean, as has been suggested, they are certainly anterior in age, to
the various groups of the Polynesian islands. They have, it is
apprehended, taken the impress of their character and mental ideocracy
from the early tribes of Western Asia, which was originally peopled, to
a great extent, by the descendants of Shem. These fierce tribes crowded
each other, as one political wave trenches on another, till they have
apparently traversed its utmost bounds. How they have effected the
traject here, and by what process, or contingency, are merely curious
questions, and can never be satisfactorily answered. The theory of a
migration by Behring's straits, is untenable. If we could find adequate
motives for men to cross thence, we cannot deduce the tropical animals.
We cannot erect a history from materials so slender. It may yield one
element of population; but we require the origin of many. But while we
seek for times and nations, we have the indubitable evidences of the
general event or events in the people before us, and we are justified
by philology alone, in assigning to it an epoch or epochs, which are
sufficiently remote and conformable to the laws of climate, to account
for all the phenomena. No such epoch seems adequate this side of the
final overthrow of Babylon, or general dispersion of mankind, or the
period of the conquest of Palestine. One singular and extraordinary
result, in the fulfilment of a very ancient prophecy of the human
family, may be noticed. It is this. Assuming the Indian tribes to be of
Shemitic origin, which is generally conceded, they were met on this
continent, in 1492, by the Japhetic race, after the two stocks had
passed round the globe by directly different routes. Within a few years
subsequent to this event, as is well attested, the humane influence of
an eminent Spanish ecclesiastic, led to the calling over from the
coasts of Africa, of the Hamitic branch. As a mere historical question,
and without mingling it in the slightest degree with any other, the
result of three centuries of occupancy, has been a series of movements
in all the colonial stocks, south and north, by which Japhet has been
immeasurably enlarged on the continent, while the called and not
voluntary sons of Ham, have endured a servitude, in the wide stretching
vallies of the tents of Shem.[16]

      [16] Genesis, 9. 27.

Such are the facts which lend their interest to the early epoch of our
history. They invite the deepest study. Every season brings to our
notice some new feature, in its antiquities, which acts as a stimulus
to thought and inquiry. It is evident that there is more aliment for
study and scrutiny in its obscure periods, than has heretofore been
supposed. Vestiges of art are found, which speak of elder and higher
states of civilization, than any known to the nomadic or hunter states.
And the great activity which marks the present state of antiquarian and
philological inquiry, in the leading nations of Europe, adds deeply to
our means and inducements to search out the American branch of the
subject. Man, as he views these results, gathers new hopes of his
ability to trace the wandering footsteps of early nations over the
globe. There is a hope of obtaining the ultimate principles of
languages and national affinities. Already science and exact
investigation have accomplished the most auspicious and valuable
results. The spirit of research has enabled us to unlock many secrets,
which have remained sealed up for centuries. History has gleaned
largely from the spirit of criticism; Ethnology has already reared a
permanent monument to her own intellectual labors, and promises in its
results, to unravel the intricate thread of ancient migration, and to
untie the gordian knot of nations. Shall we not follow in this path?
Shall we not emulate the labors of a Belzoni, a Humboldt, and a

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Incentives to the Study of the Ancient Period of American History - An address, delivered before the New York Historical - Society, at its forty-second anniversary, 17th November 1846" ***

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